Peter F. Drucker believed the best writings on leadership were those of Xenophon. I have similar views regarding Shakespeare’s plays. They depict leadership in action, both good and bad leadership. Although written hundreds of years ago, Shakespeare’s plays provide situations today’s leaders are likely to confront. People haven’t changed significantly since the Bard’s pen exposed their foibles, frailties, ambitions, imperfections, and insecurities. What do leadership and Shakespeare’s plays have in common? They’re all about people.
From leadership practices shared in Shakespeare’s plays, numerous leadership principles are revealed. At http://johnawhitejr.com/WhyItMatters, I draw on eight plays (Hamlet, Othello, Julius Caesar, King Henry V, Richard III, King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing, and All’s Well That Ends Well) to identify the following leadership principles underlying leadership practices.
Hamlet: don’t fall in love with the status quo; seek information from multiple sources; be true to yourself; be succinct; walk your talk; align your thoughts and beliefs; choose your words wisely; don’t be indecisive; envy and greed can undo a leader; and be careful who you trust.
Othello: keep your finger on the pulse of your leadership team (beware of having an Iago on your team); and don’t forget the law of unintended consequences.
Julius Caesar: beware of jealousy and envy within your leadership team; pay attention to people saying things you don’t want to hear; check your ego at the door; be discerning; trust your instinct; don’t let success go to your head; include people on your team who are strong where you are weak; and when a leadership opportunity occurs, seize it.
King Henry V: exemplary leaders rise to the occasion; leadership can require difficult decisions; be an undercover boss and practice MBWA; be attuned to the mood of your team; communicate directly with your troops; be wary of misinterpreting messages; give credit elsewhere in victory; and accept responsibility in defeat.
Richard III: choose your legacy; and bad people can be effective leaders, but is the price worth it?
King Lear: don’t ask a question unless you’re prepared for the answer; don’t count your chickens before they hatch; fools rush in where angels fear to tread; be careful who you trust and who you listen to; surround yourself with people who know you, love you, and have no agenda other than helping you; and don’t let your ego deafen your ears.
Much Ado About Nothing: don’t overlook the value of a negative or reverse selling strategy; be careful about the weight you attach to rumors and hearsay; and don’t believe everything you see and hear.
All’s Well That Ends Well: persistence pays; weigh risks and rewards before deciding; and “love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
To explore Shakespeare’s writings further, see http://shakespeare.mit.edu/works.html.