Leaders we Deserve: On Becoming a King

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Art reflects life. Hints from great actors like Meryl Streep and Antony Sher help us understand how a leader creates a role in the eyes of their audience.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got”. Regular subscribers will expect no great transformation in the interests of Leader we deserve bloggers in 2009. There will be stories about leaders and what they get up to. Maybe a few lessons suggested for leaders and aspirants.

One regular contributor is Jeff Schubert, who recently sent news of the king-making process (to be precise, it was queen-making). Jeff, reporting an LA Times account, writes:

Meryl Streep loves to tell the story about how one learns to be king.
It dates to her days at Yale Drama School, when the instructor asked
the students how to portray a monarch. “And everybody said, ‘Oh you are assertive,’ and people would say, ‘Oh you speak in a slightly
deeper voice.’ And the teacher said, ‘Wrong. The way to be king is to have everybody in the room quiet when you come in.’ The atmosphere
changes. It’s all up to everybody else to make you king.

I thought that was really powerful information. It’s “up to everybody else” to make you “dictator” – the leader you Deserve.

Year of the king

Jeff’s story brought to mind another on king-making (suggested to me some while ago by anothe Leaders we deserve contributor Susan Moger). It concerns Antony Sher and his magnificent account of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard the 3rd in the book The Year of the King . The entire book is worth studying my anyone interested in drama or leadership (are they all that far apart?)

Sher shows that playing the king is not a simple matter of moving from reality to acting. It is a creating of a new kind of reality. A great read.

Now wait a minute …

I don’t think it’s simply a case of leaders being created by other people. We still need to know what it is about the leaders we (help) create which makes them special.

Maybe Meryl Streep’s teacher explains partly what happens when someone walks into a room and achieves high impact in doing so. That’s important in understanding the notion of charisma in as much as might be related to the notion of on-stage presence.

The anecdote about Yale drama school hints at how some of the behaviours of leaders have been observed, and how ‘schooling’ can help develop the same kind on presence on-stage. How, more specifically to make a decent impact on an audience

The anatomy of a high-impact entry

I suspect we need to think carefully about high-impact entry of someone arriving on stage, or entering a room. One situation would be the entry of a complete stranger to those in the room (whom we might want to think of as an audience). The arrival of a mysterious stranger is one of the elements of dramatic action. In contrast, there is the impact of someone with a reputation which accompanies him or her, for better or for worse, when they enter into the room, or arrive on stage (every child is already schooled to boo and hiss the Pantomime villain, and cheer the hero and heroine).

The lure of the marketing promise

We may not believe ourselves to be natural leaders, but many of us are still willing to buy the idea that products help us make that high-impact entry. In the factory we make perfume, as someone said, but in the store we sell hope.

3 Responses to Leaders we Deserve: On Becoming a King

  1. Andrew Carey says:

    I really like this article. It makes me think of Machiavelli getting the subjects to treat the Prince the way the Prince needed to be treated in order to be able to fulfill the role of Prince properly.

    It also makes me slightly uneasy. NLP and Leadership comes to mind. As does the idea that it’s the wife (or husband) that makes the ‘effective’ husband (or wife). In all this transactional deconstruction (of which I approve wildly) I start to find an awful longing for a ghost in the machine. What manner of ghost do you see in the leadership machine?

  2. What manner of ghost do you see in the leadership machine, asks Andrew Carey.

    Tudor talks about ‘schooling’ to help leaders/actors develop a strong presence. Well, if that’s a part of the sort of leadership machine we’re talking about, the ghost might be the free will of the followers (combined with the self-doubt of the leader) which can conspire to bring the whole ‘performance’ down.

    Like Tudor, I agree with the idea of a highly reciprocal, co-dependant relationship between leaders and followers, but rather than build up great leaders, we should ask ourselves where we can help them lead.

    This post has sparked off quite a few thoughts – thank you!

  3. Andrew Carey says:

    Yes, that’s very neat. Especially on performance and the leader’s self-doubt. There’s presumably a socio-evolutionary thing here.

    ‘First modernity’ types, I suppose, would have wanted a leader with a cast-iron ego (didn’t want to know that their Prime Minister suffered with the black dog of depression).

    ‘Second modernity’ types (post 1960s in NW Europe) would prefer a leader with self-doubt because it would allow more empathy. The follower could say, ‘I know this leader is flawed but I choose to follow nonetheless’. More heterarchical. We can follow O’Bama better if he gets his oath wrong.

    ‘Third modernity’ types. Not sure what’s coming. Will our leaders be Twitter Mavens with ten thousand friends but nothing special to say?

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