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The Leadership and Communication Lessons of Josey Wales – Part 4

By Bob Maksimchuk


In the last installment, we left Josey and his rebel friend at a river crossing.  There they met the boatman Sim Carstairs, Granny Hawkins, who runs a supply store, and a carpetbagger.  We discussed the loquacious Sim and now let’s see what we can learn from the unforgettable Granny Hawkins.


Josey orders the supplies they need from Sim and as Sim begins to load the horses, Granny Hawkins steps onto the front porch of the store.  This grizzled, toothless, old woman smoking a long pipe turns a cold gaze upon Josey, and calls him by name, to his surprise.  She then relates what the Union soldiers, who had been there a few hours earlier, told her:


“They say ye killed your own men…They say ye killed a slew of defenseless soldiers too.  They say ye are hard put and a desperate man, Josey Wales.  They say they are going to heel and hide ye to a barn door.  You know what I say? … I say that big talk is worth doodlysquat.”


(For the interested students, go research the origins of the term “doodlysquat” and its variants.  It’s quite interesting.)  We can learn numerous lessons from this wise woman.


Lesson 8:  There is a time for talking and a time to shut up.

From her little speech we can tell that Granny is clearly not sympathetic to the Union.  Although we do not see the conversation scene with the soldiers, she obviously did not express her true opinion to the soldier’s faces, because she’s still alive to talk about it.  She kept her mouth shut.  She knew that there are times when you just need to be quiet and listen. 


How many people have you known who feel that they must say something (whether it is pithy or not) at every meeting they attend.  Others, when they know or learn something new, everyone has to be told of it, many times and as soon as possible.  This may be a behavior learned in their early school years (“Teacher, teacher…call on me.”) or one driven by insecurity but neither is the mark of leadership.  In the animal world, the pack leader is NOT the one that barks the most.  And remember, the empty barrel makes the most noise.


Lesson 9:  Clarity is power.

Granny chose not to reveal her true feelings to the Union soldiers, but did to Josey and company.  And when she did there was no confusion about what she thought.  She was brief.  She was clear.  No rambling.  No obfuscation.  No drifting one way, then another in an attempt to appear thoughtful (or to gauge what her audience’s response might be, before committing to a position).  No, not Granny.  She was certain.  She was direct.  She wore her words like armor.  Her clarity projected strength and power unexpected in someone with such a frail facade.  (I hope she had no aspirations to go into politics.)  Especially when you are giving direction to your team(s), speak clearly so that when you are not present everyone will correctly remember the direction you gave and the intent you expressed.


Lesson 10: Words carry power.

Among all the common words Granny uses, she sprinkles in some unique and powerful phrases to get her point across.  For example, “heel and hide”.  We really don’t know if the soldiers actually said that or if this is Granny’s way to express how they would treat Josey.  The likely origins of this phase are from a combination of two terms.  “Heel” likely refers to the dogs typically used to herd cattle.  These dogs were called “heelers” because they nipped at the cattle’s heels to herd them.  Add that to a common practice of stretching hides on a barn to dry, and you get a phrase, heel and hide, that conjures up a powerful and distressing picture of what they had in store for Josey.  Be creative.  Use powerful words, especially those that can create a mental image that will be remembered.  And don’t forget your assignment on “doodlysquat”.


Lesson 11: Powerful words, delivered well, multiply your impact

Granny does use great words and is very clear, but for some reason her short monologue has an impact more powerful than would be expected.  Why?  She uses a subtle framework in her delivery:

            “They say…

              They say…

              They say…

              …I say”

This simple structure eliminates any ambiguity as to where she stands.  This type of framework provides a powerful structural contrast, segregating what they say vs. what she says. Also, the repeated “they say” provides a rhythm for the listener.  And when that rhythm changes to “I say”, the listener is brought to full attention, anticipating what she is about to say. 


In more modern times, recall one technique O.J. Simpson’s defense team used.  They used a repetitive, memorable phrase that was first used to describe a glove the prosecution said O.J. wore, but didn’t seem to fit when he tried it on.  The defense said “It just doesn’t fit”.  They then took that phrase and it became the mantra that the defense repeated when disputing other evidence / timelines / claims of the prosecution’s case.  “It just doesn’t fit”.  “It just doesn’t fit”.  “It just doesn’t fit”.  They wanted to brand that phrase into the jury’s brains.


Repetition, opposition, contradiction, varying speed, varying volume, pausing, stories or parables, and so forth, all are delivery techniques that can multiply the impact of your communications.  Try them out.  See what works best for your style.  Watch your impact grow.


In Granny Hawkins we see that with age comes wisdom.  I reckin we should listen.




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