Inclusion · Leadership · Philosophy

Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: Lessons for Level 5 Leaders in Inclusion

It was a delight last week to watch a performance of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Compared to his other tragedies, I always feel it sits somewhat awkwardly in the canon. Coriolanus is not brought down by madness like Macbeth, or innocence like Romeo, or the machinations of his servant like Othello. Indeed, if anything were to be looked for as the cause of Coriolanus’s decline, it would most likely be attributed to his own hubris. Certainly, the commoners accuse him thus:

‘Against him first. He’s a very dog to the commonalty.’ First Citizen

This becomes a recurring motif, further heard repeated by Sicinius and Brutus:

Was ever man so proud as is this Martius?
He has no equal.’

I feel this explains why such a wonderfully written play is so infrequently performed. In Coriolanus, we see a reflection of a weakness that goes beyond the abstract, and is far more readily seen in the conference rooms of SLTs around the world (although I’ve seen Macbeth’s a few times as well). So why is this relevant?

When I was studying at Warwick Business School some summer ago, during a rather dull three hour lecture I’d crawled to, the professor was droning on about Collins’s ‘Level 5 leadership’ from 2001. At the time, I discounted anything more than ten years old, or pre-twitter, as being of less merit. Yet, like Gatsby, I am borne back ceaselessly into the past and find my self exploring this concept repeatedly in my research.

For those who have not read Collins’s ‘From Good to Great’, or more likely one of the many accurate para-phrasings of this book freely available online, let me offer a brief summary. He analysed in-depth 11 of the top 1500 companies in the world, who had a leader he determined as truly ‘great’ (better than Coriolanus at any rate. He then offered a guide on how to move from being a good leader to become a truly great leader. This became a trite list of six points:

  • Develop humility.
  • Ask for help.
  • Take responsibility.
  • Develop discipline.
  • Find the right people.
  • Lead with passion.

I’ll likely return to other concepts here in later posts, but today I want to focus on the first, which my lecturer assured me was the most important. How to develop humility? After all, a lack of humility was the cause of Coriolanus’s demise. Coriolanus went before the people, and gave them false platitudes as per the custom of the senate. Yet after being initially placated, the people soon realized how false his words were.

So there must be a criteria for genuine humility in the great leader, and I think in the Inclusion context, this can be most quickly be seen in three ways (I note the irony of blogging on a site with my name, and using the first person, to describe humility in practice).

First is to focus on the ideology of Inclusion, as opposed to just the processes. By imbibing a whole-school ideology of Inclusion for All, where every student feels supported to excel, there removes any stigma and the ideology becomes shared by all stakeholders.

Second is to focus on the systems and processes, as these will be the legacy of the individual. I believe in succession planning from the moment of entering an organisation, and leaving in place the systems which can be easily maintained that enable the organisation to continue offering outstanding Inclusion for All after the individuals who hold key positions have moved on.

Thirdly and finally, I wanted to end on a practical note with an idea. There are many specific ways to promote humility and a focus on the Inclusion itself over your own individual leadership, but one idea I read recently came from Andy Buck. His blog is a great read with so many ideas from a pioneer in education, but this little thought from him was why not rotate the chair of the meeting. Rather than stopping at just having individuals lead the relevant sections that pertain to their fields (I.E. the SENCO reporting on SEN), having a faculty where the key leaders are given the opportunity to actually lead the meetings themselves, and thus gain the experience of co-ordinating the direction of the team’s discussion. Reading this, I thought nothing could be more inclusive, and what better part of a school to pioneer the approach than Inclusion?

Maybe if Coriolanus had read Collins’s book, the hamartia could have been expunged, and he would have been a greater leader, even if it would result in a less interesting play. So next time you’re in a meeting, think of Coriolanus, and maybe learn from his mistake.

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