by Gary Knight

Lost in Antiquity ?



Ah Leadership, Leadership, Leadership…such a noble art , so vital to our wellbeing & yet, so rare …Good Leadership that is… & not the often awful examples of the craft we all so (sadly) encounter.

So why are Great Leaders so seldom found ?

Let’s get a bit cultural for a few moments, leave the hyper-speed world of Digital land & spend some time with one of our greatest treasures…yes the Great Bard himself, good old Bill Shakespeare…still today, one of the greatest observers of human nature in all its guises ..from Love, Death, Betrayal, Loyalty, Honour & Despair…..
So one of the greatest storytellers in our language has painted us a very vivid picture of what makes a brilliant  Leader , in essence the possession of these  4 characteristics is the ‘perfect 10 ‘ :

* The Medicine Man/Woman ( aka The Magician )
* The Warrior
* The Mother Earth
* The Good King/Queen

So digging a bit deeper into ‘leadership zones’, then we can uncover their specific  contributions to the cause :

> The Medicine Man/Woman-  creates  the ‘Magic’ upon which the Kingdom can thrive & be proud of….In Shakespeare’s day it might have been a new design of Ship that enabled dear old Albion to seek out new shores, lead global trade etc.
In modern parlance Steve Job’s iPhone , James Dyson’s Vacs …Of course it can also be a spiritual belief system that gives the population of the land hope, strength & a critical ‘sense of belonging ‘

> The Warrior is responsible for fighting the Kingdom’s battles – after all someone has to go out there, show some strength, potentially be feared ( & admired ) by their enemies ( competitors). In times gone by Warriors died young as they were pretty much in the battlefield for most of their lives.  Today our Corporate or Entrepreneurial Warriors can still be found fighting for their products & services & attempting to establish ‘trading outposts ‘ way beyond these shores

> The Mother Earth was the provider & nurturer of the people – after all they needed to be fed & cared for in return for their support & loyalty to their ‘Leader’. This is a tricky one to find a ‘mirror example’ in modern life- but undoubtedly there are Leaders out there who have HR, Coaching, Mentoring & People Passion skills that put them firmly in this room, but it is a very rare find.

> The Good King/Queen- someone has to rule the Kingdom & govern the land in a fair & visionary fashion that allows the Kingdom to thrive. I have definitely worked with Leaders who absolutely meet this criteria – the legendary Sales Director of London Weekend TV , Ron Miller, is a tip, top example of such a ‘King’ – even 25 years post his retirement there is a massively strong LWT Expats community ( myself amongst them ) who have nothing but respect & pride at having worked under Ron. We still ‘gather’ to reminisce & celebrate the honour of being a member of that high performing team.

So that’s WS’s view of the qualities a ‘Great Leader’ needs to posses… not a bad guide in my humble opinion.
However, even if you just read Coriolanus for your English Lit A Level, then you will be aware that heaps of Shakespeare’s Leaders ultimately suffer from at least one ‘fatal flaw ‘ ( sometimes a whole host of them ).
So what are the ‘dark sides’ of these Leadership traits ?

> The Medicine Man/Woman either rests  on their past laurels & stops inventing/producing any new magic & simply lets everyone know how good they were in previous days. They can also hit the  ‘mass production button ‘ & start creating magic by the bucket load that is no longer relevant or of any use to anyone. King Arthur might have told Merlin ” I am sorry dear Friend, but you just haven’t kept up with the times “. Can you spot your modern equivalent?

> The Warrior starts ‘killing’ everything that moves, become vicious rather than ‘efficient’ & can even become a ‘mercenary ‘- whose side are you really on? Dark Warriors can also become feared with a capital F by the population, no longer a team player but a lone Wolf…mmm I have definitely come across a few of those in my time.

> The Mother Earth begins to ‘smoother’ her people, really not letting them do anything for themselves anymore. She over provides, loves them in a rather overpowering false way, really doing all of this for her own growth rather than for the good of the common people of the land. If you have ever worked with Leaders who just will not delegate, then I give you the ‘modern Mother Earth ‘.

> The Good King/Queen rapidly transcends into their ‘Bad versions’ when they either end up becoming an absolute tyrant – striking fear into their peoples ‘hearts & ruling with an iron fist, or they can go the other way & wrap the Kingdom in so much red tape-  proclamation after proclamation – that the Kingdom comes to a halt, as no-one can do anything of use anymore, or it takes an eternity to get to an end game. Equally fatal is the sin of procrastination. No visions, no decisions & the Court full of ‘hangers on ‘ who add no value whatsoever to the business of ‘government ‘.

So perhaps, after this whistle-stop journey back to Elizabethan England, it would be reasonable to state that Great Leadership requires a whole host of talents you need to possess or gain, a cocktail of skills that encompass :

* the ability to always have a strong vision & to create a powerful belief system around that vision ( the Medicine Man/Women)
* the ability to have real strength in the corporate battlefields, but equally to command respect both amongst your own teams & the wider industry at large ( the Warrior)* the genuine belief that the people who work for you are the ones that truly make ‘ your Kingdom ‘ great. You want them to thrive & grow (even love) being part of the Land they work in (The Mother Earth)
* the desire & hands on activation to create a culture in which the Kingdom becomes the best possible place for your people to live, work, respect & perform at an ‘elite level’ (in the ultimate scenario ).(The Good King/Queen)

In these ultra-competitive times I would suggest we need these Great Leaders more than ever. Yet the true ‘art of Leadership ‘ is rarely taught & hoping to find ‘natural born Leaders ‘ is an often-desperate task.
Many people stumble into Leadership, often via promotion. I have seen tons of brilliant Sales people, Digital Engineers, Creative geniuses etc., who suddenly find themselves leading teams with not a Scooby of what they now need to do in their new jobs compared to their old jobs ( & by the way,  just because they send some of these people to do an intensive MBA at Harvard , this does not convert many of these players into Great Leaders )

For those of you who read my previous blog , ‘ Are Companies Happy ‘, then you will remember both my concern & sadness that the business world was being backed in a ‘short-termism ‘ virus ( as though  only the next 3 months ever matter ).  My further worry is that many of today’s Leaders are only ever focused on meeting these short-term goals, often with the over-riding desire to add further glory to their own careers & thus they are not ‘authentically ‘ concerned with the general enhancement of the people who work for them. In effect, it becomes a con game, often with people more scared of losing their jobs rather than loving the place they work.

Some of you may think I am being overly harsh or even naive in my thought process here, but to answer back I would simply state that I remain a passionate believer in building high performing teams. Indeed, it has been proven time after time that such teams drive high profits, endear incredible loyalty & most importantly, sustain these high-performance criteria over a long period of time. They are the antidote to the ‘short-termism ‘disease. All of these teams have the one big common factor of being ‘well led ‘. Their Leaders are not over-soft, weak or self-obsessed, rather the opposite- strong, respected and a team thriving ethos for all of their people. Don’t you want to work in such a Land?’

There are bastions of hope out there & when you delve deep into those surveys of the ‘Best places to work ‘, then you will undoubtedly find Great modern Leaders heading up these organisations. Some of these Leaders even avoid ‘shedding people ‘ in short term down times, getting general consensus amongst their teams to take unpaid work leave or even salary cuts to protect the overall size of the workforce. The ‘trust’ between Leader & Team is absolute & these ‘salary sacrifices’ are re-instated once the business picks up. The old saying ‘ Do not love your Company, because they don’t love you ‘ certainly rings true for most organisations but those that are well led understand the need to create an authentic ‘ family’ amongst their people. Even in a robotic future where loneliness is becoming such an issue, then our basic human desire to ‘belong’ is stronger than ever. Given we spend so much of our lives at work, then surely the onus is on our Leaders to satisfy this core need ?

If we are going to travel further, explore new business territories & create ‘Kingdoms’ in which the people with all the right skills want to live, then someone is going to have to take the ‘Art of Leadership’ seriously & build a network of learning paths that creates a robust future legacy of Great Leaders.

Gary Knight
About Gary Knight
The Ancient Art of Leadership