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12’o Clock High

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Executive Summary

The 918th Bomber group is radically transformed from being a “hard luck” group under Colonel Davenport to a successful group with pride and self confidence under Brigadier. Savage. The reasons for the dramatic turn around lie clearly in the differences in the leader ship style between the two men.

The primary causes of the division’s transformation under Savage include:

• A leader with a vision who can see the bigger picture.

• Focusing on critical tasks and not on relationships.

• Addressing performance gaps.

• Meaningful reward systems and punishments

• Instilling a sense of pride and self confidence to the group

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Introduction

The analysis presented in this paper has been done with an aim to answer one fundamental question: “Why did Brigadier Savage succeed in transforming the 918th while Colonel Davenport fails?”. The differences in leadership style between the two men have been presented within the frame work of three main parameters: vision, organizational changes and human resource management.

Vision

Colonel Davenport, while basically “a nice man”, has a myopic view of the 918th. He is only able to see “mission to mission” and cannot foresee how the actions of his group play a role in the larger scheme of things, i.e., winning the war against Germany. As a result he is unable to notice the performance gaps of his group and how their dismal performance plays a role in the war against Germany at large. Even his body language is one of resignation and lacks the contagious confidence that a leader needs to posses [1]. It is no surprise that the men in 918 under Davenport lack the pride and self esteem required for the job and give excuses to stay on the ground.

Brigadier Savage on the other hand clearly sees the bigger picture. As he says to Lieutenant Jesee Bishop after a successful mission “Sure we’re guinea pigs. But if we hang on now, one day soon somebody is going to see a solid overcast of American Bombers on their way to Germany to hit the Third Reich where it lives”. He also understands that this “hard luck”, if left unchecked, could affect the rest of the 8th air force groups costing them the entire war.

An interesting point worth discussing is how Brigadier Savage shared his vision with his group. In fact when he assumes leadership he even rebukes the group for pondering “what does this all mean?” [2] and it isn’t until the third mission that we hear him share his vision with Bishop. Remarkably his actions and confidence make the men realize for themselves what is at stake. When Savage announces towards the end of the movie that Germany would be the next target of the mission, there is a collective sense of jubilation on being entrusted with “the responsibility”. That the vision is shared by everyone is evident form the fact that even many members of the ground crew (Stovall, Mcillhenny, Padre) end up clandestinely flying on the mission to Germany.

Organizational Changes

Unlike Davenport, Savage realizes the importance of flying at 9000 ft as opposed to 19000 ft. He realizes that this is very important for day light precision bombing to become a success []. However he also realizes that certain fundamental changes need to be made at the 918 for it to succeed even flying at 9000 ft. To this effect there are three critical changes that Savage does that have long term impacts on the 918th. One, he focuses on turning the 918 into a professional unit. He scolds the guard at the entry post for not verifying his identity; he places Gately on arrest and demotes him from his position of Air Executive; he demotes Sergeant Mcillhenny to a Private for not wearing his uniform and promotes an accomplished man such as Cobb to the position of the Air executive. He is in essence signaling the message that in the “new organization” he will be holding them to a higher standard. Two, he introduces regular training and briefing sessions for the group to take them back to the basics. He stresses on tighter pattern formations and group integrity. When Lieutenant Pettingly leaves the formation to help a crippled aircraft, he publicly scolds him and tells him that one B-17 leaving the formation reduces the fire power by ten guns and adds that a crippled air craft must be expendable (where as Pettingly’s commitment to his group is not). The effect of this is that he drives home the message that this is no longer a “friends helping friends” kind of organization that it

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