In Archetypes, Leadership, Ruler

A positive light doesn’t always shine on leaders in tough times. Sometimes they’re severely criticized for powerful, decisive actions (and sometimes they deserve it). Yet, sometimes their actions are just misunderstood.

This year marks milestone anniversaries in the deaths of two of the most famous “rulers” in history – Abraham Lincoln (150 years) and Winston Churchill (50 years). History has loved and revered them both for being able to step up and be the boss, embrace their inner ruler archetype. But, some of the roles a ruler archetype plays lead them to be disliked. In the end, however, its their ability to persuade and inspire action that we remember.

Finding Balance for the Ruler Archetype

Being the Boss, The 3 Imperatives of Becoming a Great Leader, by Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback, is a favorite on my bookshelf. It is a constant refresher on why it is important to strike a balanced leadership style and how to do so. The book contains a reference to the work of Mary Parker Follett a social worker who is known as the mother of modern management. Follett said, “The test of a manager is not how good he is at bossing, but how little bossing he has to do.” Hill and Lineback go on to say “at times we need authority and at others more effective tools of influence.”

Here are some times when exercising authority is appropriate and necessary:

  • In a life and death emergency
  • When groups cannot come to consensus after exhaustive attempt
  • To maintain business and ethical standards and norms
  • To set boundaries or limits on things such as costs
  • To focus on what is most important

imagesBoth Lincoln and Churchill exercised authority during crises of wars and political upheaval. In more recent history, we saw similar traits in people like Mayor Rudolph Giuliani during 9/11, CEO Mary Barra in the GM safety crisis, Governors Cuomo and Christie during the Ebola virus outbreak. All of them called upon behaviors that are typical of ruler archetypes: exerting control, demonstrating power, taking responsibility, and managing through chaos.

The ruler archetype’s best qualities, however, aren’t a fit for every scenario. Formal authority isn’t always effective. Some other tools of influence will be needed in the following situations:

  • Uncertainty with changes in leadership
  • Job eliminations and restructuring
  • Sustaining customer service and retaining clients in downturns
  • Keeping the mood light and positive
  • Focusing on rewarding great behavior vs. punishing laggards
  • Recovering from loss

Using Ruler Archetype Skills Effectively

Winston_Churchill_cph.3b12010Rulers can be more effective when they focus on their softer skills or behaviors that influence and garner positive support. Some of these might include empathy, listening, or humor skills. Employees who are acknowledged in this way tend to except change as a good thing, embrace it and have some celebration along the way. When there’s a balance, they’ll follow the ruler’s lead willingly.

In famous speeches of both Churchill and Lincoln we can hear loud and clear their powers of caring and compassion as well as their ruling strengths:

Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, one of the most often quoted commemorative speeches is famous for it’s introduction, “Four score and seven years ago.” Another line of the speech though, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here,” has been re-quoted by many leaders to soothe aching hearts and remember fallen heroes.

Churchill’s famous “This was their finest hour” speech in 1940 inspired British and Americans to act as one during WWII. But also at the 1941 Atlantic Conference during the war, Prime Minister Churchill, President Roosevelt, military leaders and sailors of both nations stood on the Prince of Wales battleship for Sunday services. They sang hymns that had been selected by Churchill. He wrote later, “Every word seemed to stir the heart. It was a great hour to live.”

We need our rulers to rule during the toughest times, to use their authority with balance and to influence our finest behaviors when challenges are the most difficult.

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