I hope everyone had a wonderful and relaxing holiday season, and wish a prosperous 2013 for all. I gave myself the gift of distance for the past couple weeks – distance from work and social media…down time. Very nice.
Another gift was seeing Les Mis – twice! Being a fan of the stage, I was skeptical about the casting in the movie, but it was perfect. Yet neither the stage nor the movie tells the full story of Monsieur Madeleine – le nom de Jean ValJean while in Montreuil-sur-mer where he is the town’s Mayor and the master of vast workshops that employed the townspeople of the village. I found a leadership lesson in the pages of Victor Hugo’s description of what happened after M. Madeleine confessed to being ValJean and disappeared.
“After his fall, what happened at Montreuil-sur-mer was the usual self-interested divvying up of what is left when great men fall…The vast workshops of Monsieur Madeleine were shut down; the buildings fell into ruin, the workers scattered….From that day forth, everything was done on a small scale instead of a large scale – for the lucre, instead of for the common good…the bonds knitted by Monsieur Madeleine became tangled and broke…everything fell apart.” (p 303)
In leadership theory we espouse the competencies of building vision and building relationships….both of which Hugo attributes to M. Madeleine. ValJean/Madeleine was a visionary – he saw the opportunities in a long-dormant local industry, rebuilt the industry and then some, and was appointed Mayor of the town.
But it is the building of relationships that allows the vision to take flight. In this context, building relationships has nothing to do with friendship, and everything to do with keeping the vision alive through constant communication and contact, removing obstacles or issues that cloud the vision, and inspiring the benefits of the common good achieved by the vision…..providing the glue that held the people together.
In Madeleine’s case, the common good was jobs and economic prosperity. When he left, the vision left with him because there was no more glue – no more intervening, no more inspiration, and no more astute leadership.
In today’s world of business and leadership, leaders must continue to provide the glue, and the complexities of the world make this more and more challenging. Organizations downsize, creating “working managers” – so the position of “leader” is less clear. Organizations promote “the best and brightest” in the work, but perhaps not in leadership skill. Building relationships is exponentially more difficult, as special interests at all levels of the organization come on strong.
The lesson from Les Mis, I think, is the critical importance of leaders being clear on their roles, being developed in leadership skills to face today’s complexity, and being held accountable as leaders so that the vision can stand the test of time. Perhaps I am being naive, but it seems to me that there is nothing in organizations today that is more important.
Hugo, V., (2009). Les Miserables (J. Rose, Trans). New York: Random House.