Lessons in Leadership from an unlikely source…

Before starting B-School, the series I obsessively finished watching The West Wing. It was the first time I was watching the show and I was impressed. There were aspects of the plot, the walking and talking, the writing, the characterizations… they all appealed to me. But the real reason I loved this show was Martin Sheen as The President. There are MANY things about the US Political system that I find baffling. A few of them are, 1) Republicans vs. Democratic party split which just happens to be 50:50, 2) The opinions between the two sides that to any sane person seem like an easy decision- for example the gun debate., 3) The questions of abortion etc. Hey, I am not going to take a stand here… the politics is interesting but irrelevant to me. The reason I care about this show is simply Martin Sheen.

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In episode 1, we spend almost 30 minutes of exposition before Martin steps on stage and delivers a speech, settling an argument and showing the qualities of high intellect and leadership. The set of characters, CJ Cregg, Toby Ziegler, Joshua Lyman – they are smart, smart people. Their interchanges are witty and insightful. Just before starting the MBA, this was maybe all I could elicit from this show. I loved it, but that was all.

Well- I am almost done with the MBA. I start my last subject, ‘Leadership and Change’ next Monday. I started reading my notes and assigned readings and noted something immediately ‘difficult’ about this. I was reading about ‘Leadership’. I find the idea strange, like it just cannot happen. One particular reading- ‘What do leaders do?’ It talked about things like aligning goals, creating the culture of leadership… it differentiated between a manager that controls and a leader that motivates. Reading this, Martin Sheen came to mind. So naturally, I’m watching the show again as preparation for my class.

Here is what I have learnt from that show now that I think about it in terms of leadership- the people are really smart, yes. The best people are vetted and hired to work in the White House. The President surrounds himself with talent, trusts their judgment and then makes decisions. His team respects him, they trust him. They zero in on him for advice because while he may not know how to do everything, he is wise and can coach and mentor them. He is aware, can identify when something is not right. He learns from his subordinates… many times he makes mistakes and lets things like passion or anger cloud his judgment, but at those times he listens to his team. These are qualities of a leader. So what if I found these messages from a TV Show. They are true.

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