Lessons in Leadership
I’ve been busy these holidays, navigating my way through Kingston, with Bob Marley’s music and a patchy awareness of the Rastafari movement being the only prior knowledge I had of the island known to locals as Jamrock.
What better way to spend down time than to get lost in a great book? Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings is a fictional account of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, with a cast of complex characters (CIA agents, gang members, politicians, journalists, children robbed of childhood in the ghetto, and of course, the Singer) that create a rich portrayal of the cultural and geopolitical climate leading up to and in the years following that fateful day in Kingston, which fortunately didn’t lead to Marley’s demise.
I’ve had to put the book down a few times, not because it wasn’t riveting, but because of the curiosity it piqued about so many historical and political events I was not aware of and suddenly had an urge to know about, such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba. And herein lie the leadership lessons.
Most people who’ve worked in a team of more than one are well versed, at least in theory, in what makes a great leader and successful team. Looking at the lessons learnt by the CIA from their failed attempt to destabilise Cuba and overthrow Castro in the 1961 invasion that is known as Bay of Pigs, the answers are screaming out. There were a myriad of reasons for the invasion’s failure which were analysed by the CIA but remained classified until 1996. The one thing they seemed to get right were the nuggets in the post-invasion review which provide valuable lessons for leaders and team members in any work environment and on any project. I have countered (counter-intelligenced?) these reasons for failure with my Declassified Caches of Intelligence for a Successful Team.
Interestingly, the incident was also a prime example of what psychologist Irvin Janis wrote about when he coined the term “Groupthink” in 1972, a tell-tale sign of dysfunctional teams that many a leadership text warns against. I first came across the term in required reading of a leadership course I undertook a few years ago. Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge espouses five practices of exemplary leadership, one of which is “Challenge the Process”, a practice to challenge the status quo; be comfortable with the risks and lessons in failure; and ultimately, eliminate a team dynamic that results in groupthink.
Further lessons from my reading into Bay of Pigs:
- Use your leadership skills for good.
- Don’t undermine or destabilise other teams.
- Be open and transparent- share lessons learnt of success and failures in a timely manner.
How would you counter the poor leadership and team dynamics of the Bay of Pigs alumni? Share your intelligence in the comments, or recommend some great holiday/work commute reading for the New Year.
Wishing you happiness and success in your endeavours in 2016, and in the words of Bob Marley, I hope you: