By Geoff Loftus
As Hamlet might have said, “To lead or not to lead; that is the question.” Actually that isn’t a question for most Forbes readers. Your question is: “How best to lead?” Fortunately, William Shakespeare, who died 400 years ago on April 23, has many answers to that question, but we’re going to limit ourselves to three of them:
Don’t Lead Like Hamlet — Hamlet’s decision-process is a disaster. His Dad’s Ghost appears, tells Hamlet that his uncle murdered his father and now has married his mother. Dad’s Ghost wants revenge! (Wouldn’t you?) Many of us, having been visited by a ghostly apparition of a loved one, would grab the nearest sword, or maybe a battle axe, and go take care of business with the murderous uncle.
But not Hamlet. No, our boy Hamlet needs a lot of time to figure out how to execute his mission from Dad’s Ghost. He ponders every detail and worries about everything. He torments poor Ophelia, impulsively kills Ophelia’s dad, and eventually manages to cause the slaughter of the entire Danish court. Given that Hamlet’s mission was to avenge his father, you could rate him a success because he does get the uncle. But Hamlet succeeds at his mission by destroying the organization (the royal court of Denmark) and himself, leaving an outside executive (Fortinbras) to take control. When leaders can’t stay focused and form decisions in a timely fashion, the result, as Shakespeare said in Macbeth, is: Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!
Don’t Lead Like Romeo and Juliet — This tragedy is the ultimate coming-of-age romance. Romeo and Juliet are smitten with passion for each other in the first moment, then commit without hesitation to their flourishing love. They ignore the bitter, lethal feud between their families. Romeo, mounts the walls of Juliet’s family estate then climbs to her balcony where they set the standard for flirtatious dialogue.
It’s great to feel so passionately about something that you let no obstacles stand in your way. But what Romeo and Juliet discover is that passion is an excellent driver of short-term success. Unfortunately, sooner or later, reality intrudes. For Romeo and Juliet, the ugly reality is their families horrific hostility. For your organization it might be management’s failing to persuade stockholders that management has the right plan for the future.
Romeo and Juliet resort to trickery to overcome their problems, and the results are what you expect when leaders resort to deception and manipulation. Yup, our star-crossed lovers end up dead. Married, but dead. But hey, it’s not all bad, their feuding organizations (the Montagues and Capulets) have come together in their grief.
Do Lead Like Much Ado About Nothing‘s Beatrice & Benedick — One of the earliest and best romantic comedies, Much Ado About Nothing features all the deceit and manipulation we’ve come to expect in Shakespeare (and much contemporary comedy). What makes for a great leadership lesson is what Beatrice and Benedick do in the midst of the rumors, gossip and lies. Both take public positions that they cannot stand each other. Their dialogues are insult-duels (which Beatrice usually wins). Ultimately, however, they have the courage to be honest and admit how their true feelings: They love each other.
The leadership lesson here? Honesty is the best policy. The characters who rely on dishonesty (the villains Don John and Borachio) are arrested. The characters who admit what they feel and what they want to do about it (Beatrice and Benedick) end with a strong hint of happily ever after.
What’s the leadership takeaway? As Polonius said to Laertes in Hamlet:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
This article was written by Geoff Loftus from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.