Bard Attitude: Lawrence Olivier's Son On Becoming The Shakespearean Hero Of Your Business

Richard Olivier recently visited the Best Practice Institute to lead senior executives from some of the world’s largest corporations in role-playing a scene from Shakespeare. Let's pull back the curtain on the important leadership lessons that took center stage.

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare famously wrote for a monologue in As You Like It.

That wisdom certainly applies to the modern corporation. Every storyline has its hero. As a leader, your role on the stage of your workplace is to be the hero your organization requires.

The destinies of the heroes in Shakespeare’s plays were imposed upon them by the words the great Bard put down on paper. However, in the theater of your workplace, it is up to you to shape your own destiny. Whether the play you star in ends in celebration or tragedy is primarily up to you.

Here are three points to consider in being a successful hero in your organization.

1. Embrace being a hero

Show me a successful company and I will show you some heroes who led the way to that success. Being the hero is why you are in a leadership role. If you are uncomfortable with that, someone else will eagerly take your place.

Embracing the role of hero includes being innovative, showing courage and taking responsibility. If you don’t feel like a hero, start playing the role until you do.

Richard Olivier, founder of Olivier Mythodrama, former Master of Mythodrama at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Professor at Said Business School at Oxford, and son of Lawrence Olivier, uses Shakespearean plays to challenge corporate executives to explore great questions of leadership. We brought Olivier in to a recent Best Practice Institute event to lead the senior executives of some of the world’s largest corporations to role-play a scene from Shakespeare. Human beings learn through imitation, Olivier told us. Leaders should “rehearse it, practice it, and act it in,” he said.

2. Be the hero your workplace situation requires

Being a hero means rising to the occasion you are in and providing the leadership your situation requires. However, different occasions and situations require very different kinds of leadership.

In many of his leadership presentations, Olivier focuses on four kinds of “heroes”: the good king (representing order), the medicine woman (representing change), the great mother (representing nurture), and the warrior (representing action). Which one of those heroic roles is most important? That depends entirely upon the situation.

If your workplace is desperately in need of a “great mother,” you may be wreaking havoc by playing the “warrior.” If you are playing the “medicine woman” when what your organization really needs right now is a good king, success is not the likely outcome.

Being a successful hero means understanding the storyline that is playing out on the stage of your workplace, and then being the hero your story needs.

3. Help the other players play their roles well

Occasionally a one-person show will be a big hit, but that is rare. Most plays and storylines require many characters playing their parts well.

The players sharing the stage with you are invaluable to your organization’s story of success. Part of your job as hero-leader is supporting and encouraging them in the parts they have been cast to play.

Most plays are much better due to the contributions of the many unique and colorful supporting characters on stage. You may be the hero, but every player is crucial to success.

Shakespeare: Leadership Expert

Funny that cutting-edge 21st century leadership principles are being drawn from the 16th century Bard of Avon. Very much like our own times, the world of Shakespeare’s day was experiencing phenomenal change. It was the heyday of the Renaissance and culture was advancing rapidly on all fronts—art, literature, science, politics. All of these themes are explored in Shakespeare’s works.

After all, Shakespeare’s employer was the king of England, and his troupe was called The King’s Players. Shakespeare explored leadership concepts on behalf of his patron, the most powerful leader of the world. You could say Shakespeare was in the leadership development business.

In evaluating your own leadership, you could do worse than to consider the great heroes of Shakespeare’s plays. The good king, the warrior, the medicine woman, the great mother.

Being a leader certainly means being the hero. But make sure you understand the storyline playing out in your workplace and be the kind of hero your organization needs. Being the right kind of hero makes all the difference between a successful run or a colossal flop.

[Image: Flickr user Tambako The Jaguar]

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