Thursday, December 8, 2005

56. Do we follow non-leaders

I am not much of a fan of reality television; however I must admit to watching the last two seasons of ‘The Apprentice.' Even though Donald Trump represents most of what I am against, I enjoy the business/marketing plans executed each week by competing teams. It is similar to the computer simulated "Marketing Game" that teams in my graduate school participated in to test marketing plans in competition against each other. On ‘The Apprentice,' the losing team has one of its members fired. The last person standing earns a job with Donald Trump.

I found a recent episode to be disheartening and with it, I considered the differences in leadership values. One team had arranged to purchase some megaphones to use in the promotion of their product. The other team, which waited too long to place a similar order, essentially, and consciously, stole the identity of the first team and purchased the megaphones from underneath them. The retail store, of course, did not know one team from the other and mistakenly sold the megaphones to the wrong team.

Leadership is a highly sought-after quality in employees- and businesses, as well as business schools, invest heavily in the "teaching" of leadership. My first class in graduate school was "Leadership and Teamwork," and I also participated in Leadership Lorain County. Inevitably the discussion circulates around what makes a great leader, that is, what are the leadership qualities that we all envy? The study includes leadership styles, techniques and the lives of great leaders.

The discussion is an interesting one; consider the different leadership styles of our founding fathers, presidents and leaders of other nations. Likewise, consider the leadership styles of the progressives and revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi. Finally, sports fans will note the similar success of very different coaches, such as Bobby Knight, Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski.

The success of very different leadership styles might cause one to wonder, or ask, what makes a great leader. For if both authoritative and empowering styles prove successful in the same business by different individuals, how can one be determined to be better than the other? Leadership training can be equally confusing, for one theory is to be a "risk-taker," while the other will be conservative, urging individuals to "stick to their core values." We learned to be "detail-oriented," while at the same time, "not to sweat the small stuff." Some say success lies in "outworking" your competitors, while others urge the healthiness of a balanced lifestyle.

I think one of the biggest mistakes in understanding leadership is the perception that those with power, either authoritative or financial, know what leadership is. It is similar to believing that the majority is right about an issue just because it is in the majority. Some will say that people want to be led- to be told what to do, what to think. However, just because people are following, it does not necessarily mean they are being led. I think powerful people sometimes begin to be viewed as leaders simply because of the steady flow of demands and requests they receive and decisions they make. There is a difference between running an organization and leading one. Those that have experienced both clearly understand the difference.
From week to week on ‘The Apprentice,' it is interesting to watch each competitor's perception of leadership as they attempt to lead his or her team to victory. But the fact is that leadership is an inconsistent idea. Often we see a leader ask for input from his or her team. When the team wins, it is because the leader took the advice of his or her teammates (empowered them). When the team loses, the same act is viewed as being indecisive and weak. Teams that argue and win are "engaging in healthy debate;" those that lose are "selfish and unmanageable," even if the difference between the two are but a few (statistically insignificant) dollars. Apparently the only solution to the no-win situation is to win.

Donald Trump and his "loyal advisors" (Bill and Carolyn) both found the act of "theft and impersonation" to be a clever move on the part of that team that swooped in and swiped the megaphones- despite the fact that that might have been the difference between one team winning and the other losing. I personally found the act deplorable, and to me it demonstrated the type of actions these individuals might engage in when desperate for success. Trump apparently only cares about winning and losing; I would have fired them both, on the spot.

Two quotes from my 2006 Monthly Planner aptly summarize my perception of the situation. Robert Freeman is quoted to say, "Character is not made in a crisis- it is only exhibited," while Lily Tomlin notes, "The trouble with the rat race is that even when you win, you're still a rat."

Thursday, December 1, 2005

55. Expose can't get exposure

"Congrats on your 5th Best Feature Film honor.  We loved your movie and it rated higher than any movie we have screened in the last eight months.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that we will have to pass.  You made a great movie with excellent acting and production values.  But the country is in a very conservative time now.  Our company, and probably most others, can't afford to risk marketing funds for a controversial film that deals with religious zealots.  My advice is to build your Internet support until the buzz about the quality of your movie rises above the concerns of the number crunchers.  When it does, we hope to be able to make you an excellent distribution offer."

The movie is “Heart of the Beholder,” and as the distribution company notes, it has won five Best Feature Film awards around the country.  But, for the reasons described in the statement above, nobody will distribute it.  

The movie is based on the true story of video store owners Ken and Carol Tipton.  The Tipton’s started their video rental business when the debate was still about VHS or Beta.  From there they grew into a multi-million dollar company with franchises in Missouri, Texas and Illinois, and developed the “Movie Machine.” 

Their troubles began when the National Federation for Decency (NFD), now the American Family Association, began picketing their stores for renting movies such as “Taxi Driver,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Animal House” and “Mr. Mom.”  They even protested the movie “Splash” because it “promoted sex with animals.”  The issue reached a breaking point when the Tipton’s were the only St. Louis area video store to offer for rent “The Last Temptation of Christ.” 

They were harassed to the point that they received death threats, including the threat to send their daughter “…back to God to be reborn to parents who worship the Lord.”  The NFD, by blackmailing the prosecuting attorney, were able to bring obscenity charges against the Tipton’s.  The Tipton’s won their court cases, but lost everything- including each other.

The movie, written by Ken Tipton, details the experience and by all accounts and recognition is well done and deserving of distribution.  It must be an eerie irony in realizing that the same religious atmosphere that unfairly put him out of business is now responsible, if indirectly, in preventing the release of the story itself.       

Mike Furches, a “follower of Jesus Christ,” and movie reviewer for, writes,

“This movie has been winning film festivals across the country. I for one believe that trend will continue, and I personally hope that more film festivals will allow the movie to be juried in and eventually that the film is picked up for wide distribution. I will assure you that once it does, the protests will likely start up again. That is unfortunate, because of the lessons we can all learn from the film, whether one be a Christian or not.”
Interestingly, individual ‘religious’ reviewers differed in their opinions. Some noting, as Furches did in his full review, that the story is troubling, but that it shows both sides of Christianity.  Others, again as Furches predicted, are ready to begin the protesting (and name calling).  Comments from the movie’s website follow:   

“I just knew this movie would trash Christians, but it didn't. As a true believer, I was totally entertained.  Lots of twists and turns.  Very well done.” 


“I dont [sic] know what kind of sick, sadistic, satanic, idol worshipping people you are. But i do know a thing or two myself about religion and I know that that movie you have created is an abomination and that you are all going to Hell. I'm sorry. If you want more info on how to repent from your sins and recieve [sic] the forgiveness which is in the name of the lord jesus christ [sic], then email me back. and i will show you what we are talking about. PS I have never seen such a sick movie, and you have cursed the name of the almighty God.”  
I will take the liberty in making the assertion that it is the second comment that has distributors concerned.  The first amendment guarantees the freedom of speech, but as we also saw last year with Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” it does not guarantee distribution.  Ideological expression seems to be controlled by those who are financially at the mercy of conservatives.  My objection is not conservative opinion, rather the attempt to censor ideology that differs from theirs.  I have always believed in presenting both sides of an issue to the public and affording individuals the right to decide for themselves.  What a shame that such an award-winning film may not ever be seen by most Americans.