Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Command Presence - The Cutting Edge

Image by Gundula Vogel from Pixabay
Image by Gundula Vogel from Pixabay 
Growing up near Sun Valley, Idaho, winter sports were popular. Although Sun Valley is reknowned for skiing, ice skating holds the fascination of many. I enjoyed graceful men and women gliding across the ice, jumping, and spinning as they went. Little did I know that my fasciation with ice skating would become the impetus for a leadership blog some 45 years later.

So, Pam, what does ice skating have to do with leadership, and more specifically, command presence? Today's reflections are inspired by the movie "The Cutting Edge."  I know this is a stretch, but stay with me.
Developing Command Presence with The Cutting Edge
In the 1978 movie, Doug Dorsey, an Olympic ice hockey player played by D. B. Sweeney, is paired with Kate Moseley, a world-class figure skater played by Moira Kelly. Dorsey is an injury-sidelined ice hockey player while Moseley is a talented yet spoiled ice skater with a huge attitude. 

The movie is really a love story; however, I am going to focus on an underlying leadership issue—command presence, or lack thereof. Although both are talented athletes, both have barriers to success (in this case winning an Olympic medal). Dorsey is seen as the macho, figure skater hater; Moseley, the spoiled brat no partner can stand to be around. Neither Dorsey nor Moseley have a clear grasp of who they are or how they are seen by others. The only way for the pair to succeed is to change from within and through each other.

Knowing who you are and how you are seen by others is a foundation to your command presence. Fortunately for Dorsey and Moseley, command presence can be developed. Unfortunately, developing command presence comes with a "cutting edge"—it is not easy to change. We must unlearn habits and behaviors that are at our very core. Change is hard work, and when it means being vulnerable and exposing yourself to the hard truths, we tend to avoid the pain and remain unchanged. When this happens to a leader, followers distance themselves. Without followers, there is no leadership. And just like Dorsey and Moseley, it doesn't matter how good you are, you will never succeed. The mission will be compromised.

I am not going to spoil the movie for you, but I will say that both characters changed. They changed because they had a shared purpose and because they cared about each other. This is no different for us as leaders. Leadership is a team endeavor. Sure, we lead self, but we can lose sight of who we are, too.

I know command presence is much deeper than this analogy, but the point made in the movie is clear. If people cannot stand to be around you, you have to change; it is doubtful your team members will. And equally important is, you don't have to do it alone. Sure, you do the hard lifting, but with the right team, champions are born!

Wildland Fire Leadership Development Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper

  • Take a good, hard look at yourself. What do you see? 
    • Are you revered or rejected by your team?
    • Have you created a leadership environment that allows for truthful sharing?
    • Are you willing to be better?
  • Be conscious of the choices you make and the actions you take or fail to take. Consider keeping a journal of those decisions/actions and the results of them.

Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

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