Leadership lessons from ’12 Angry Men’

After watching ’12 Angry Men’ (Its a movie!!) for 3rd time, I started thinking how inspiring this movie might be for anyone working with organizations and communities to change behavior of mates for the better. I have tried to put forward the summary of my understanding from the movie!

Why am I mentioning a movie on this blog? Because those 96 intense minutes have a lot to convey, which can, if closely observed, change our perspective towards the very objectives we construct for ourselves.

People who have seen the movie can relate to the article very well, for the rest I highly recommend watching this movie. It’s a dissenting juror in a murder trial who slowly manages to convince the others that the case is not as obviously clear as it seemed in court. Though, I will consider my job done if this article can drive you to watch it. Some lessons teach you management and some display leadership.

Lesson 1: Having a different perspective.

When kicking off any behavior change initiative, it’s important to seek a different point of view and start seeing the bigger picture – to look up and out; that’s how it started. In the early scene of the movie, as the jurors start to gather around the table, Henry Fonda’s character deliberately separates himself from the group, he’s being careful to separate him from the group, and maintains a different perspective.

Lesson 2: Important decisions should be given time.lessons from 12 angry men

In the movie, a boy’s life is at stake – if found guilty, he will be executed.

 So Fonda’s character (called Davis) wants to talk things through, not to rush to a snap, potentially prejudiced decision.

Lesson 3: Persuasion

Convincing strangers to consider new perspectives, new insights, new goals is a fundamental, challenging task of leadership because it requires a deep investment of personal character, mental stamina, and a capacity for emotional insight perfectly balanced with the ability to reason.

Lesson 4: Nudging towards a better choice

This movie does a pretty good job of demonstrating how people can be nudged in a certain direction by changing the way choices are presented to them.

Henry knows that the he cannot force his opinion on the other jurors. They need to be nudged along, so that the choice to vote “not guilty” seems the more attractive one. Emotions are high in the room, and people are resistant to change. If there’s any doubt, he’s reminded of this early on in the movie when he stands alone against the 11 in voting not-guilty, and another juror barks – “You’re not gonna change anyone’s mind”.

Whenever he’s asked if he thinks the kid is guilty, he constantly answers “I don’t know. It’s possible”. This may actually be what he’s thinking at the time, but it’s more likely he knows that he can’t box people into a corner by telling them what to do. He needs to continue to nudge them, giving them information that gradually weakens their arguments, many of which aren’t based on rational reasons as expected, but a variety of emotional influences.

Whenever we’re trying to change people’s habits, we know we’re dealing with complex forces and emotions. So finding a way to nudge rather than push is always going to be more effective in the long-term.

Lesson 5: Stay Calm

More influential folks in the room are those that make their points in a calm and steady manner. In comparison, those who lose their temper, shout and attempt to force their opinion on others quickly lose any ability to persuade. They have an impact on people, but not the one they seek.

Lesson 6: Influence of social networks

Most times we’re not even aware of the influence of the group or social norms on our behaviour. And most times we’re not cross examined or forced to defend why we do what we do – we just go along with what feels normal in our world. We see some of the jurors having an opinion without any rational backing, simply because the group they belong to.

People want to stay on the side where there are most of others, this avoids complicated reasoning of having an opinion altogether. And that’s a big part of the challenge faced in our communities.

Lesson 7: Believe in your instinct

 Well, that’s what other jurors didn’t do.

What lessons do you learn from the movie?

Satyam is a Consultant with Infosys Ltd. and editor / founder of marketinomics.com. When he is not talking about Digital Marketing or dreaming of CRM strategies, he can be found on a treadmill. He enjoys travelling, reading and listening to music! Catch up with him on twitter at @xatyam