Running Head: Leadership Paper
The movie We Were Soldiers revolves around a leader, Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (played by Mel Gibson) and his unit, who are set for their first battle of the Vietnam War. A minor plot also unfolds concurrently, which involves Moore’s wife and a friend delivering telegrams about soldiers’ deaths to relatives and friends back home. Lieutenant Colonel Moore is commander of the first Battalion, 7th Cavalry regiment, the same regiment that was fatefully commanded by General George A. Custer in the 19th Century. General Custer and his men were slaughtered at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. A born leader, Lt.Col. Moore manages to achieve the impossible when despite his being outnumbered by the enemy, he refuses to give in and eventually proves triumphant when he forces the Vietnamese troops to vacate their headquarters.
Lt. Col. Moore uses various supervisory techniques to lead his unit to victory. The first technique that Moore uses even before he and his troops get to the battlefield is that of leading by example. Setting examples for others to follow involves practicing what one preaches and earns a leader respect and loyalty. At a party held the night before their departure, Moore delivers a speech to his unit where he swears that even though he does not promise to bring home all of them alive, he will be the first one to set foot on the field and the last one to step off it. He adds that dead or alive, he will not leave anyone behind. True to his word, when the battle is over, he ensures that every one of his men is removed from the battlefield before being the last to set foot off the battlefield. During battle, Moore also leads by example numerous times in the battlefield through his acts of heroism and his refusal to give up.
The second supervisory technique that is evident in Lt. Col. Moore’s leadership is that of treating everyone with respect and dignity. In the same heartfelt speech delivered by Moore to his unit, he points out that every man in his unit, despite his race or origin, is an important member of the troop. “…here in the States some men in this unit may experience discrimination because of race or creed, but for you and me now, all that is gone.” By ensuring that everyone understood this, Moore was building confidence, self-respect and group cohesiveness that would go a long way in ensuring that the members of his unit trusted each other.
Finally, Lt. Col. Moore is unrelenting in his commitment to victory in the war in Vietnam. He has a vision which he has every intention of achieving. A fantastic leader who commands the ultimate respect of his soldiers, Moore is maniacal in his commitment to war and believes that he will prove victorious. When Lt. Col. Moore is told the size of the enemy troops, he is not bothered by the fact that he is outnumbered by the enemy. He disregards the advice given to him to stay out of the mountains where a battalion could easily get lost and charges into the valley with his troops behind him. Even thought he might have made a mistake, he puts up a defensive battle, with the help of reinforcements from the second Battalion, 7th Cavalry, and eventually wins the day.
Of the three supervisory techniques discussed above, the first two were highly effective. Through leading by example, Lt. Col. Moore ensures that he earns the respect of his troops, a vital factor in the effectiveness of any team. In addition, he is the first to go into the battlefield and is therefore prepared to die first, which boosts the confidence of his soldiers. It is mostly through this technique that Moore and his unit emerges victorious. The second technique of treating everyone equally and with respect is also highly effective. By employing this supervisory method, Moore builds trust, group cohesiveness and pride in his team. For this reason, soldiers go into the battlefield knowing that they are part of a family and that their family members are looking out for them. This technique was also critical in providing victory to the regiment as members always had that team mentality and worked together for their success.
The third supervisory technique employed by Lt. Col. Moore, that of unrelenting commitment, was fairly ineffective. One of the true qualities of a leader is knowing when the chances of success are minimal and when living to fight another day is necessary. Because of his maniacal commitment to war and his passion for results, Moore led his unit into a volatile situation that resulted in the loss of many lives. Leading his troops to a situation where they were outnumbered by the enemy was a major mistake that Moore made as commander. It is only through the first techniques – leading by example and group cohesion – that Moore and his regiment manage to secure the victory that Moore is obsessed with.
In one scene, Lt. Col. Moore is advised to stay out of the mountains, as his troops could easily get lost in there. In addition, he has been made aware by the intelligence lieutenant that the enemy’s regiment is staking out the region and that it will easily outnumber his in size, but he is not bothered by this fact. He leads his troops into the Valley despite their low number, hoping to force the enemy to stand and fight. This places the unit in a difficult situation and for three days, they fight for their lives. As supervisor, I would have ordered the unit to stand down and wait for reinforcement from another regiment. Only when our number was close to that of the enemy would we have proceeded. The reason I would have taken this direction is that inasmuch as I would have had full confidence in my team, I would not have led them into a situation where they were more than disadvantaged and where their chances of survival, let alone victory, were minimal.
A high stress environment like war or a hospital’s emergency room may affect supervisory techniques. This is because in such situations, a supervisor may be faced with physical danger, which in turn affects his whole decision-making and thought process, either positively or negatively. In a high stress environment, immediate positive effects, not evident in less stressful environments, may arise. These include increased energy and motivation to get the job done, clearer thinking, faster reaction rates, and improved memory retrieval in response to the cause of the stress. There have been instances where people in high stress situations have reported feeling a certain ‘high’ in response to an emergency. This is basically the same short-term effect.
However, negative effects that are not evident in low stress environments, may arise in high stress environments. This happens when the perceived level of challenge begins to exceed a supervisor’s judged ability to cope with the stressors. This results in undermined confidence as well as a low performance rate. In addition, an individual may inadequately communicate information, which eventually results in added stress. In such a situation, the supervisor may feel the strain of responsibility and an added threat to important values, life, health and environment.
Because of the insecurity involving assessment of the situation and provision of solutions, a supervisor may end up performing at their worst level in high stress situations.
The supervisory trait that I relate to most is that of leading by example. This is because leaders who lead by example often produce results by showing commitment, setting goals, removing obstacles and providing incentives. I once worked for an employer who valued time keeping but who could never keep time himself. While he demanded that every member of the firm be in the office by a certain time, he was rarely on time and often kept valuable customers and employees waiting. This greatly affected the morale and working environment at the office. I have learnt that in order for employees or team members to respect an employer or other team leader, he has to be ready to lead by example.
Often, supervisors are required to be prepared in case any high stress situations arise. However, these textbook techniques do not always work in such situations. This is because when these techniques are being prepared, some factors that arise in high stress situations may fail to be taken into account, as they may be unpredictable. For instance, in a high stress situation, a supervisor may not be very effective in leading by example. Because of perceived danger to their lives, values or relationships, supervisors may abandon the ship, so to speak, and fail to lead by example. Such a situation arose once in junior high where a team leader abandoned his team when he learnt that the project they were assigned to had resulted in some damage to a chemistry laboratory. He failed to stand behind his team, instead claiming that he had been against their actions from the very beginning.
Schmidt, A. (Producer), & Wallace, R. (Director). (2002). We Were Soldiers [Motion Picture]. United States: Paramount