Leadership Lessons from Matthew Quigley

quigley-down-under-selleckPhoto Credit: myfavoritewesterns.com

No, you didn’t miss some new best-selling leadership book. Matthew Quigley is the lead character from the 1990 Western “Quigley Down Under.” I’ve mentioned previously my belief that sometimes the best advice/nudge/new perspective comes from places you’d never expect it — in this case, from a 25 year-old movie. I was recently walking through the room where my husband was watching this throw-back Western. I’ve always liked this movie, and one line in particular has stayed with me from the first time I saw it — in fact it has become a bit of an inside joke with a former colleague of mine.

At the end of the movie, when Quigley has vanquished the bad guy with a Colt revolver —in spite of his vocal preference for a rifle — he walked up to Marsten (said bad guy) and delivered the classic line, “I said I never had much use for one. Never said I didn’t know how to use it.” With apologies to those who do not appreciate a good Western, Quigley’s statement brings to mind one of the challenges that, sooner or later, all leaders will face.

We all have a preferred leadership style. Regardless of that style, on occasion, we will likely have to make a decision/take an action that is not in keeping with our preferred way of operating. For example, I consider myself a fairly collaborative leader. When working with outside organizations, my preference is to identify the mutual goal and work toward a win/win. In the vast majority of cases, I think this is the best strategy. Over the years, however, there have been a small number of instances where I had to draw a line in the sand. I felt so strongly about the decision that I was willing to walk away rather than compromise. No bluff. Of the two instances that specifically come to mind, in one case the organization was able to meet our requirements, in the other case we walked away.

Just because taking a hard stand is not my preferred leadership style, that doesn’t mean I don’t need to know how to do it. I have a stewardship responsibility to work toward the best interests of my agency, and sometimes that means working outside my comfort zone. (Never outside moral our ethical standards, just outside my comfort zone.) So how do you know when it is time to take a different approach? For me, when I have done my best to be collaborative, and the stakes are too high to allow compromise; when I have considered every alternative, prayed for wisdom, and my gut keeps leading me back to that thing I really don’t want to do; when a decision-point is upon me and inaction is not an option . . . well, let’s just say I never said I didn’t know how to draw a hard line.

How about you? There is undoubtedly some facet of leadership that you “don’t have much use for,” which is not at all the same as saying you don’t need to know how to do it . . . after all, you never know when you might need to “Quigley-up.”

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