Movie Review on 12 O’Clock High
At the outset of the film, General Savage is charged by his superior with a daunting task: improve the already dismal morale of the 918th, then fly those crews on daylight precision raids until they can’t fly any more. One of the central themes of the film is the question as to how much stress a man can really take, and how General Savage aims to push his men to that limit and beyond, if necessary. When Savage takes over the 918th, the morale is low, but the men are fiercely loyal to Col. Davenport, from whom General Savage takes command.
Because he has been flying missions with the men and utilizing a participative leadership style, Davenport sees firsthand how much is being asked of them, and sympathizes with their plight. He has seen the worst of battle, and he believes far too much is being asked of his crews by his command. Because he feels this way, discipline in the ranks begins to break down, and his crews purposefully fake illness so they won’t have to fight. The “over- identification” or sympathy Davenport feels for his men makes him an ineffective leader, because he is not able to push them to complete their objectives as his command requires.
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His crews are loyal to him, but it is obvious they do not respect him as a leader. Recognizing a need for a structural change, General Savage enters, and he’s given a clear set of objectives and has the iron will to see them done. The change in leadership (from participative leadership to executive leadership) has led to opposition as it appears as though that iron will drives the men to seek transfers as Savage seeks to enforce discipline and accountability to form a cohesive fighting unit. It is interesting to note that at first, he appears to want to unite them against him, and he succeeds.
They do all request transfers, and select a spokesman to carry out conversations between them and General Savage while the transfers are being carried out. But Savage has a larger plan; one that involves the crews seeing some kind, any kind of success on the battlefield. He buys some time with the transfers, and begins to work on producing positive results for the unit. He started with practice bombing runs with the crews to get them ready for alert status. When the time finally comes, he flies with his crews and initiates a successful bombing run on German positions.
When comparing and contrasting the leadership styles of the two men who lead the 918th, there is almost no comparison. While Davenport has the unwavering loyalty of his men and most will do anything for him, they quickly show that they are only willing to go so far under his command. Perhaps they feel they can get away with a little bit more under his command because he is a sympathetic figure, which is why so many of them fake illness to get out of their bombing runs. Savage, on the other hand, has an uncompromising leadership style, and is clearly prepared to sacrifice anyone at any time in order to achieve his objectives.
At first, he almost ends up losing the entire 918th, as his strategy is a gamble more than anything else. He is hoping that by bringing them together against him, that they eventually will fight for him (and fight harder at that) when they finally taste some success. This is born out by the repeated daylight bombing runs the crews are forced to undertake to in order to meet the command’s objectives; and each time they go out, they are far more successful under Savage than they ever were under Davenport.
Davenport, while able to get his men to fight well for him, is never able to push his men beyond their limits, because they know he will break down and side with them when they refuse. Conversely, General Savage does not accept quitters, and confines the worst of them to one particular plane (The Leper Colony) to prove that point. In creating the Leper Colony, Davenport is instituting reverse phycology to create a change in behavior. Members of The Leper Colony were known to be some of the strongest fighters within the 918th as displayed by Gately who flew three missions with cracked vertebrae.
While Savage initially was able to keep his personal feelings out of the situation he found himself in, he became increasingly drawn in with the men, and found himself beginning to identify and become out of balance just as Davenport was. The best example of this was the stowaways on the planes, and Savage’s response to them. Had he not been more emotionally involved, he would have been better able to mete out punishment, instead of largely dismissing the actions of the stowaways after the missions.
In my assessment of Savage, it appears as though he will not only be unsuccessful, but end up a dismal failure in trying to rally the crews to his cause. It’s not until the end of the movie where I see the successes pile up, and Savage is vindicated through his approach to group leadership and discipline. Savage taught the 918th several things about commitment, teamwork, and success. He taught them to work as a team, be flexible in order to achieve better performance, take risks, as well as prepare for long term- effectiveness by allowing other members in the unit to carry the load at different times.
Also, he did a great job in demonstrating the core tasks of change leadership: Develop and Commutate Purpose, Establish Demanding Performance Goals, Enabling Upward Communication, Forge an Emotional Bond between Employees and the Organization, and Develop Future Change Leaders. In my own experiences, I was faced with improving efficiencies in my area by 20%. Past results had yielded an improvement of 12%. After completing some line observations, I realized that we could gain 6% by not stopping the lines for breaks.
This change was extremely unfavorable because the colleagues were accustomed to taking breaks with their friends. Additionally, I noticed that the standard for break time was being abused as colleagues were taking ~6 additional minutes per break as well as stopping the lines 10 minutes early at the end of the shift. I explained that if they continued to abuse the break policy as well as stopping the lines early that I would follow the disciplinary process. This change in behavior gave area an additional 7% increase inefficiencies. Finally, the reaction time from maintenance to equipment breakdown needed to be improved.
I implemented a daily downtime meeting to discuss the reasons why the equipment was down. After 1 month of having daily meetings, the department saw a decrease in equipment downtime and my efficiencies went up another 10%. Throughout this process, I had colleagues requesting a transfer to different areas and I became well acquainted with Human Resources. After achieving an efficiency increase of almost 25%, the people who worked with me enjoyed being a part of a team that produced positive results and would say “she was hard to work with in the beginning, but she rewards you well in the end. In conclusion, this film is interesting in the respect that it shows two very distinct styles of leadership, and where each may fail in the course of job execution. While Davenport initially has some success, the film eloquently shows that he is only able to get so much out of his crews because of his close relationship to them. Savage, on the other hand, winds up getting more out of his crews than Davenport ever did, but he almost loses them at the outset of his engagement because of his almost merciless command style.
So from viewing this film, we can see that success in leadership probably lies somewhere in the middle and knowing when to adjust your style is key; ultimately, we want to get the most out of the people we have to lead, without having them revolt and wreck the larger objective. Savage succeeded because he ultimately gave his crews a taste of victory and something to fight for, which ultimately characterizes and quantifies what great leaders and leadership really are.