Stable leadership in an unstable world (Movie review: The Man Who Would Be King)
Over the weekend I watched The Man Who Would be King, a movie that's as old as me!
It's a rollicking good yarn - as you'd expect from a Rudyard Kipling story - but it has some serious lessons about the value of tradition in leadership planning.
If you haven't seen it, here's a very brief rundown (spoiler alert!):
Peachey Carnahan (Michael Caine) and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) are two disaffected ex-British soldiers in India with big plans. They're going to travel to the exotic (and fictional) kingdom of Kafristan, and use their wits and soldiering skills to become kings.
They make it through many dangers, and village by village, begin to fulfil their plans. Along the way, Daniel is mistaken for a god, the descendant of Sikander (Alexander the Great) who they revere.
At first Daniel's not having any of this, but Peachey persuades him that they can reach their goals much easier if the people believe he's some sort of god. Daniel agrees.
Gradually Daniel starts to believe his own press - or "get drunk on his own juice" as Adam would say - and when Peachey wants to take the treasure and go, Daniel says it's his destiny to stay and begin a line of kings.
As you might expect, things don't go well. The people discover he's not divine, and... well, you'll have to watch the film.
So what has that got to say about leadership? I'll bullet point it for the skim readers among us:
- Tradition can be incredibly helpful. Witness the early scenes in the movie of Freemason loyalty to complete strangers. Because Kipling was a fellow mason, he could trust Carnahan and Dravot, and they could trust him.
- Tradition can be a powerful excluder. Peachy and Daniel were only ever welcomed by the Kafristanis because they had guns and promised to help them
- A leader must understand his people to effectively lead them. Daniel had great ambitions and a great (slightly romantic) sense of protection for the Kafristani people, yet he didn't even understand their language.
- It's very, very important to remain goal-focussed, aware of the situation, and not get drunk on your own juice. How do you do this? One way is to take advice. Peachey knew that the glory was just going to Daniel's head, but Daniel wouldn't listen.
- Have a genuinely good goal to start with. This wild pair had in mind to fleece a nation of its riches and get back to England, until Daniel was stirred by noble feelings of duty to 'his people'. Get all that out of the way first, and make sure what you're doing is the best, most noble thing you can think of.