Leadership, War, and Hollywood
Writing Prompt 8
As most problems are there is never distinctly one problem, normally there is an accumulation of many different factors that will contribute to an unproductive situation or scenario. While being much easier to simply single out a singular issue that leads to problems, Northouse lays out a concept known as “The Toxic Triangle”. In this idea there are three attributes that lead to a bad work environment and a failure amongst the leaders and followers. The triangle highlights a destructive leader, susceptible followers, and finally conducive environments. While studying different films, A Few Good Men applies this idea of the toxic triangle perfectly with the destructive leader of Col. Jessep, the susceptible followers specifically Private Louden Downey, and finally a conducive environment of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Northouse describes a destructive leader as “having charisma and a need to use power and coercion for personal gains” (Northouse 345). One could argue that Col. Jessep values respect over all other traits, however Col. Jessep requires this respect from people because of his rank in the military. By being a Colonel, Jessep is able to ask and require more out of others then normal people would ask. An example is when Lt. Kaffee, Lt. Weinberg, and Lt. Cdr. Galloway went down to the investigate the incident of Private Santigago’s death. At the end of their lunch at the club before leaving Cuba Lt. Kaffee asks for the flight records after being told that Santiago was going to be transferred. Col. Jessep begins this long diatribe and gets around to saying that Lt. Kaffee could get the records just he would need to ask nicely. Col. Jessep does this to remind Lt. Kaffee who he is talking to as well as Col. Jessep loves the power that he has and the ability to make other people do what he likes. Each time that Jessep uses the power that comes with being a Colonel just pads his ego even more. Such is the case near the end of the movie when Lt. Kaffee is examining Col. Jessep in the courtroom, Col. Jessep tells the judge that Lt. Kaffee should refer to him as Colonel or Sir because he has earned that. This is just another example of Jessep using the power of his rank to change the behavior of others for his own personal gain of respect and power.
To go along with a destructive leader Northouse mentions that there will be susceptible followers as well. These followers will also be broken down into two different types, conformers and colluders. While both will attribute to a bad leadership atmosphere, in A Few Good Men, PFC Louden Downey is an example of a conformer. From the introduction of the PFC Downey, the audience is able to establish that he is not the smartest Private in the Marines. Although not being smart is not necessarily his fault it does provide a negative association in his participation in the Code Red on Private Santiago. PFC Downey is not even able to realize that he and Lance Cpl. Dawson’s actions were wrong and illegal, until Lance Cpl. Dawson had to explain that they still assaulted a lesser human. So through not being intelligent, PFC. Downey will follow and obey any order without realization of right or wrong, which in this scenario was the following of destructive orders coming from Col. Jessep.
Filling in the last section of the toxic triangle is the conducive environment. There is no place that perfectly sums up the definition of a conducive environment quite like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba does. Two of Northouse characteristics of this environment are “instability and perceived threat” (Northouse Figure 13.2). While being stationed in the military can be described at this when deployed, non more so than in Cuba. During the movie the concept of a “mirror” is explained as someone from the “other side” locking in and engaging against you. This is definitely can be categorized as perceived threat of someone on the Cuban side locking in willing to shoot you and kill you. Being stationed in the Marines in Cuba is instable simply through the example of having Col. Jessep have 2nd Lt. Kendrick order Lance CPL. Dawson to give the Code Red to Private Santiago immediately after 2nd Lt. Kendrick orders the whole squad to not lay a hand on Private Santiago. This contradiction in orders leads to confusion and a great deal of instability amongst the troops. Through being threatened constantly that your mirror will engage and kill you along with contradicting orders, being stationed in the Marines at Guantanamo Bay leads to a very conducive environment.
Not all leadership can be beneficial to the group. Northouse gives three different scenarios that when all three are present this is classified as a destructive leader. All three of these factors can be displayed in the movie A Few Good Men. Col. Jessep shows the effect of a destructive leader. PFC Louden Downey expresses the catastrophe of a conforming follower. Finally, Guantanamo Bay is a very conducive environment.