Clark Gable: Leadership Moxie

I recently read the biography of iconic film star Clark Gable. It was a good start to the summer reading fest, and I thought it would be a break from my typical list of biz books. In fact, though, Gable reminded me of the basic principles leaders follow.

For example, there were a couple of things I didn’t know about him that grabbed my attention. Both have to do physical transformations that led to his later success. The first was easy to observe from the photos of him in the book I read called Clark Gable, A Biography. As a chain-smoking high school drop out of 16, Gable looked about as goofy as a cartoon character. He was a bruiser with big hands and enormous, flapping ears. But by his mid-twenties in 1927, he was show-stoppingly handsome. As I read the book, I looked at the pictures over and over again, because it was so difficult to imagine how the ungainly, overgrown boy-man could morph into such a gorgeous hunk.

The second fact would be impossible to notice from the photographs, but it would have been a career ender had he not handled it. “It” had to do with his voice.  According to biographer Warren Harris, Gable had a high-pitched voice when he began begging for theatrical roles in cities such as Seattle, long before he made it to LA.

Gable spent 14 years transforming his physical appearance, lowering the register of his voice, and learning to act in theatres all over the country before he ever performed in a movie.

Gable “got” branding long before the concept was fashionable. He understood he was a product as sure as Coca-Cola or Kleenex. He protected his public persona and understood a lot about what made his brand work for the public. He was, according to all around him, a consummate professional.

It’s not an easy thing for a man to do to change the register of his voice. It takes a tremendous about of work over several years, but Gable was single minded.

The point is that Gable wasn’t suddenly “discovered.” He worked his tail end off to be positioned to achieve success. He had gifts – good looks, but they were buried at first under layers of poverty and neglect. In fact, one of his life-long challenges were in his mouth. Isn’t it ironic? Gable was so poor as an adolescent that his rotten teeth were a life-long battle for him. He was an actor, yet he constantly had to deal with dentures and teeth problems.

We all have strengths. We all have challenges. The future we carve is often based on how we handle the chaotic blend of our strengths and weaknesses. The essence of leadership is knowing yourself, knowing what works for you and knowing how to ask for help when you need it. I found myself asking how could I help my clients be more like Gable in some ways. What could we all learn from his example? Leadership mojo? In so many ways, Gable got it.