February 04. 2011 2:00AM - Last modified: March 14. 2012 4:17PM

A transformation story


By Jo Hawkins Donovan

I heartily recommend that you go to a theater to see the Oscar-nominated film "The King's Speech." For experiencing excellence in acting and film direction alone, you will get more than your money's worth.

Then, before the film leaves town, return to the theater with your leadership team, the stars in your organization who are smart enough to know that development of their skills is an ongoing project.

I make this strong recommendation about a field trip to the theater, because the film is an engaging study in leadership development.

As you've no doubt heard, the film's focus is the stuttering or stammering speech of King George VI of England. That in and of itself held my attention, as early in my career I studied quite a bit about stuttering, and embraced the theory developed by Wendell Johnson, Ph.D. Dr. Johnson was a stutterer himself and came to believe, from experimental and empirical data, that this distressing condition develops primarily because of interactions between a young child and an adult in their environment (usually the mother).

All children (and adults for that matter) stutter in their speech from time to time. Children in early stages of learning speech and language more so. Dr. Johnson professed that for some children, the focus on their dis-fluent speech ("Slow down. Start over now, etc.") is the genesis of a whole collection of fears about speaking. At first it may be only certain feared sounds, or feared situations. In some cases though, the number of feared words, sounds, or situations keeps growing and the fear results in an array of blocks in the speaking process.

Some of these blocks are barely noticeable. Others seem to involve most of the speaker's physique and can be dramatic.

A stuttering problem is a tough thing to bear and thanks to Dr. Johnson and many other gifted speech pathologists, preventative and therapeutic help for the condition is available.

On another level though, when viewing "The King's Speech," I enjoyed witnessing the King's transition from a fearful prince who avoided speaking whenever possible, to an inspiring leader. This transformation is masterfully played by Colin Firth.

Your organization's aspiring leaders will see the star of the film gradually take on the characteristics we all want in our leaders. The new King moves gradually out of introversion and seeming arrogance, into humility. He changes from being completely dominated by his stuttering and the accompanying fears and avoidance measures, into exhibiting courage and remarkable perseverance.

He comes across as pretty self-absorbed (except for his loving connections with a wonderfully supportive wife and children) in the beginning. As the forces of circumstance and responsibility close in, he grows into leading from his depths, exhibiting passion and commitment to his people.

He learns that he needs to reach out for and accept help from others. In so doing, he is enriched with a lifelong friendship with his speech therapist. The intricacies of that relationship are beautiful to see on the big screen—and nicely resulted in King George's overcoming being ruled by his stuttering condition.

The mental, psychological and physical transformation is compelling. When he prepares to address the world via radio at the start of World War II, he has developed the strength and confidence to lead his nation. His courage (the flip side and partner of fear) is evident.

He's learned how to take a stand – out loud.

We know that owning a company doesn't make one a true leader. A title doesn't either. And even though there are countless seminars and workshops on leadership development – not to mention excellent coaches of course – there are no certificates or diplomas that magically transform us into leaders.

It is a complicated process demanding a huge amount of self-awareness, the support of nearly everyone in one's inner circle, integrity and courage and love. And it is not for everyone. We need awake and inspired followers, as well.

However, if you are thirsting for the leadership role, and willing to invest all it takes to develop true leadership ability, I strongly suggest investing six bucks at the theater to see this shining example called "The King's Speech."



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