I owe my friend and colleague Carol Kirves thanks for her recommendation to see the film Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg. Based on actual events during the Cold War, the movie stars Tom Hanks, America’s Everyman, as Jim Donovan, a civil attorney pressed into service to defend accused Russian spy Rudolf Abel. (Abel is portrayed by Mark Rylance, known to some of us for his portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in last year’s Wolf Hall series on NPT.) As the story unfolds, Donovan becomes a key player in delicate negotiations between the U. S. and the U.S.S.R. for the exchange of prisoners.
Although he is literally miles from his personal comfort zone, Donovan employs the same essential skills that have fostered his success as an attorney, husband, father, and friend. He uses his innate creativity, cleverness, courtesy, determination, and human decency to outwit and outplay the experts seeking to manipulate him as he pursues a seemingly impossible mission. The only rule he plays by is “do the right thing.”
Friend and colleague Anne Stahl forwarded a post from Little Things Matter: Improve Your Life Today on “Leading without Authority, Title, or Rank.” Jim Donovan’s mission in Bridge of Spies was complicated by his lack of all three, yet he managed to get the job done when others had failed. Here’s an excerpt from “Leading without Authority, Title, or Rank” that makes the point:
“Rather than looking at the little things you should and shouldn’t be doing, focus on the person you want to become. Examples include:
• If you are a responsible person, you won’t need to focus on being on time or making sure you are prepared, because it’s who you are.
• If you take pride in your written communications, you won’t need to make sure your emails are properly formatted and proofed, because that will happen automatically.
• If you are a person who genuinely cares about others, you won’t have to be intentional about showing an interest in people, because it’s what you do anyway.
• If you are person of integrity, you won’t need to do things to show you can be trusted, because people won’t question your integrity.
If you want to be a leader and person of influence, then focus on the person you need to become to be viewed in that regard. Start today becoming the person you need to be, so you can be the leader you want to be.”
A tip of the fedora to Jim Donovan for showing the way, and to Spielberg for introducing us to yet another unsung hero.