Famous Leadership Case Study

I had a blast today!

I led a leadership team of 60 wonderful executives and managers through a famous leadership case study called Green Eggs & Ham, developed by leadership guru Dr. Seuss. The case study stars two main characters — a leader named Sam, and another person who I’ll call Herb. In the story, Sam works and works and works to persuade Herb to eat some ham and eggs that are unusually colored.

The story is rich in lessons for leaders, especially on the themes of communication, relationships, and context.

I learned a lot from the leadership team today. We paid a great deal of attention to risk. Some of Sam’s leadership behaviors put Herb and others into increasingly risky environments. As we analyzed one of the interactions (pages 32–35), one of the leadership team’s executives said, “Sure, it looked risky, but everyone ended up okay.” The lesson for me: What feels safe and what feels risky depend a great deal on your point of view.

Another interesting point is that most of the time neither Sam nor the other characters (who are perhaps a little too focused on implementing the leader’s vision) notice when their progress literally goes off the rails. This has two lessons for me: First, am I so busy trying to bring this one last person on board that I am putting my vision at risk? Second, perhaps the people who are reluctant to embrace my vision are able to see dangers that I am not.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There were many more lessons, and lots and lots of laughs. If the leadership team learned as much from each other today as I learned from them, I earned my pay.

I love my job!

Experiment: Buy a half dozen copies of Green Eggs & Ham. Arrange a one-hour meeting for your team. Brainstorm a list of effective leadership values and behaviors. Then work through the case study. Read it out loud, two pages at a time. Take a minute after each pair of pages to talk about what is happening in the story. What leadership qualities is each character exhibiting? What qualities is each failing to exhibit? What are the implications for the leader’s vision? What does Sam finally do differently that helps him achieve his goal? What does all of this have to do with your organization, with your leadership behaviors and abilities, and with the leadership visions you want to create?

Experiment: Similar to the previous exercise, but focus on change and resistance. What does each character want and expect? How well are they communicating? What are the relationships among the characters, and what happens to those relationships throughout the story? How does the context affect each character? How do each characters’ actions affect the context and the other characters? What does Sam finally do differently that helps him achieve his goal? What does all of this have to do with your change efforts?

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