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Success in one role is no guarantee

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

In this era of “celebrity CEOs,” it’s useful to remember that skill—actual competence in leading people in the job at hand—counts for something.

Take the following examples of real celebrities. During World War II, several famous actors saw combat. Some excelled, some floundered. Others were wounded or killed. Many who came back starred in roles that captured their experiences at war.

A few examples are:
  • Jimmy Stewart, already a heartthrob, flew 20 dangerous missions over Europe and then underwent a series of promotions, becoming a full colonel in 1945. Returning home, he starred in dozens of films and remained active in the Air Force Reserve.

  • Henry Fonda also was a movie star going into World War II. After Pearl Harbor, he defied his studio and enlisted in the Navy. Later he played the leading roles in several war movies.

  • Robert Montgomery enlisted in the British military before the war and drove ambulances in France until Dunkirk. Then he returned to the United States and switched from the Navy Reserve to active duty, eventually commanding patrol torpedo, or PT, boats in the Pacific. His postwar films reflected his wartime work.

  • Laurence Olivier didn’t fare so well. The distinguished English actor failed miserably as a pilot, crashing five planes in seven months, and was relieved of duty as a flying instructor. Still, he went on to excel in the movie A Bridge Too Far, and narrated the documentary The World at War.
Lesson: Competence counts, whatever role you find yourself in. Don’t assume that just because you’re a leader in one field, you’ll shine in another. Present yourself for duty with humility, dig in and learn.

—Adapted from “In the 1940s, the American film industry rallied like never before or since to support the war effort,” Flint Whitlock, WWII History.

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