Twelve O’Clock High
As a paradigm of the effectiveness of contrasting leadership styles
relating to a specific managerial environment.
Professor Thomas Schillar
February 1, 2000
Paradigms of Leadership
Twelve O’Clock High
Introduction to the paper’s subject, and primary objectives:
General information regarding the topic of this paper:
;#61623; The purpose of this paper is to identify and contrast the different styles of leadership exhibited by two characters found in the 1949 movie Twelve O’Clock High starring Gregory Peck as General Savage, Army Air Forces general. Based on a true story, Twelve O’Clock High is a inspirational account of the highly dangerous precision daylight bombing missions carried out by US Army Air Force’s 918th Bomber Group in England during the last part of World War II. In the beginning of the movie the squadron is commanded by general Davenport. It is very clear that General Davenport’s main concern is the wellbeing of his men. He obviously had developed close interpersonal relationships. The men of the squadron were completely devoted towards Davenport and they trusted any decision that he would make. General Davenport’s affection for his men comes to interfere with his ability to lead them. The squadron suffers heavy losses to planes and heavier losses to soldiers. One instance that clearly demonstrates Davenport’s incapability to uphold his responsibilities as the leader is when he jeopardizes the well being of the entire squadron by ignoring protocol and flying out of formation in the attempt to save one plane. When it becomes apparent to Davenport’s superiors that his emotional feelings have become an obstacle to his effectively leading the squadron they relieve him. General Savage who is ordered to take over the underachieving bomber group experiencing heavy losses because of poor technique and lack of focus. Savage takes a kind of tough love approach, holding his men to the highest standards. Savage makes the point that the ultimate objection of the squadron is to successfully complete the assigned missions. Throughout the movie Savage constantly makes it absolutely clear to the squadron that no one individual’s wellbeing will be placed ahead of the entire team and the success of the team. Initially the changing of the preceding General dispirits the squadron. They felt that General Savage was uncompassionate considering the men as nothing more then numbers that were dispensable at his convenience. After several missions that were marked by a remarkable turnaround in success the man eventually come to respect General Savage and his methods of leadership. Although Savage care very much about the wellbeing of his men he represses his feelings and presents himself in as being very cold and business-like. General Savage’s effort to maintain consistency in the way that he treats his Men eventually takes its toll. By the end of the film he’s driven himself into utter physical and mental exhaustion.
Background of daylight precision bombing:
;#61623; Daylight precision bombing was used during one of the most critical points of the war. The allies had been successful at eradicating Germany from most of France and the other countries that had formerly been occupied as a result of hostile invasion by the Axis power. Germany’s new primary objective was then shifted from an aggressive strategy to successfully defending their homeland in order to recuperate. This would allow them to extend the length of the war thus improving their chances of eventual triumph. The Allies had the opportunity to end the war quickly by successfully striking down Germany while they were in weakened state. The US knew that Germany’s weakened condition was temporary and would only last for a short time. Therefore the only way that they would be able to capitalize on this window of opportunity to cripple Germany was by swift and effective action. The Allies strategy to invade Germany involved two-parts. The first was the weakening of Germany’s internal defenses by bombing certain targets that were felt to be the most crucial to Germany’s ability to ward of an invasion. After this the Allied ground troops would follow in the attempt to conquer Berlin. This strategy, in theory, would allow for a much less formable German defense to the invasion of the allied ground troops thus precipitating an end to the war in the shortest amount of time possible. Before this time the use of daylight bombing was considered to be nothing short of well-intentioned suicide missions. Unfortunately though the precision of nighttime raids was far inferior to that of daytime ones. Therefore although the use of daylight bombing would almost certainly lead to a much higher casualty rate the US feared that the toll on human lives would be much greater if they weren’t able to promptly subjugate Hitler. Therefore Eisenhower made the highly controversial decision to begin the use of precision daylight bombing against Germany.
Discussion of leadership style’s:
Positive aspects and limitations of the applicability of this movie as a legitimate model for today’s managers:
Based on the norms of today I feel that using this movie is not applicable as a model of leadership in most businesses. The primary reason is that the situational nature of this example is far different then almost any that you may find in 21st century business organizations.
The differences between the leadership environment in this example and that of the typical business environment can be explained by several characteristics that contribute to shaping the environment. The subordinates who were taking orders knew that there was a very substantial risk of being killed. This harsh reality might have a shifting effect on the priorities of the subordinates as well as the type of leadership style needed to be most effective. Also, I would argue that the hierarchical relationships in the military are not compatible to the “typical” boss-subordinate relationship. This difference might be reflected in the amount of feedback, between superior and subordinate that are expected and appropriate. As a subordinate in the military you are given orders and unless asked you are not allowed to give any input as to what you feel is the best course of action. However, today more then ever, employers are encouraging employees to take a more active role in decision making as well as determining the task that they perform.
Research by Kennedy (1982) showed that the type of situational environment determines which of the leadership styles are most effective. In his research Kennedy showed that in situations of moderate situational favorability leaders who were primarily motivated by establishing and maintaining close interpersonal relationships were more effective as leaders then individuals who were motivated primarily by task accomplishment. The environment in the movie where the army organization was located in a foreign land during a war could be considered as being low in situational favorability. In environments such as this where there is low situational favorability leaders that are primarily motivated by task accomplishment are more effective. So what does all of this mean? The effectiveness of a leadership style changes along the continuum of situational favorability. Leadership styles that may be effective in situations like the one in the movie may be less effective in other situations. Therefore, it is difficult to accurately apply the leadership lessons in this movie to other more “normal” situations.
Although it may be difficult to apply the lessons learned through this movie to the majority of situations it can be applied to some. In situations where there are monumental problems looming over an organization this movie offers a very concrete example for people in authority to follow. It can also be applied in situations where there has been a recent change in authority. According to the book leaders that have recently entered a position of authority should be more task specific in the way they interact with employees. This will clear up some of the ambiguity associated with the needs of the new leader to the employees.
Reasons why Savage succeeded where Davenport failed:
Differences in primary motivation:
Davenport was primarily motivation was the establishing and maintaining of close interpersonal relationships with his followers. While Savage, on the other hand, was primarily motivated by task accomplishment. As in this type of situation Savage’s style is more effective. However, even though Davenport failed in this situation I feel that his leadership style has the potential to be highly successful in an environment that are more favorable. In this example Savage was faced with a crises. In periods of crisis leaders identify problems and implement solutions tend to be the most effective. Clearly Savage does a better job of making his expectations clear.