High Noon

Recently I watched High Noon, the 1952 classic about the sheriff who stands alone against four bad guys who want to kill him when the town is too afraid to stand up. The lesson is supposed to be to stay true to your principles and stand up for what you think is right, even if you might die in the process.

The sheriff is supposed to be a hero. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a great movie. But what I see instead when I watch the movie is someone who does not understand group dynamics, and makes his task much more difficult by failing to recruit anyone to his cause. The sheriff thinks that he’s got lots of allies in the town, and from the opening wedding scene, it appears that he does. But when he asks for help, he discovers they are not true allies. High noon is a bad time to find that out.

The sheriff also fails to win the PR war between himself and the bad guy he locked up 5 years ago. The bad guy hasn’t spoken a word to anyone in the town in over 5 years, he’s coming back to town to kill the sheriff, and the sheriff still can’t convince people to help him fight this guy.

The sheriff goes (alone) to the bar, the church etc. and pleads for help. Well when you are one person in a crowd of 50 who all say no, it is easy to say no. This is a good way to *not* recruit people to your cause.

The sheriff needs people to help. But people are unwilling to help if they think they are the only one helping, and rightly so, as the risk decreases with the number of additional people on your side.

Instead the sheriff should act and behave as though he has 3 or 4 other people ready to help. The people he asks rightfully feel guilty about leaving him to face the bad guys alone, but he absolves their guilt instead of exploiting it. He should approach his most likely allies individually and secure their support. Then once he has their support, he can go to the larger community with those allies behind him.

The sheriff also fails to strategically plan for the long term. He’s positioned himself as an outcast, a loner, without support from the group, who believe that he’s going to die. Even if he kills all the bad guys, he will not be welcomed back into the community with open arms.

It’s true that our heroes need to have lots of courage, and they often face a solitary road. But they don’t often screw up such an easy opportunity to recruit allies.

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