One of my favorite self-development/leadership development movies is A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger. The story is about personal change, self-awareness, crisis management, success, failure, leadership experience, growth and development in the three competence areas…Personal, Professional and Leadership. It is also about a disciplined approach to development, taking responsibility for your life and continuously reinventing yourself as you grow and develop.
The beginning of the Story
A poignant part of the movie shows how young William gets his start in which you see a father taking his son to be a knight’s page. His father wanted his son to have a different life than a thatcher, so he lets his son become a page for a Knight. His father was his first mentor and he taught him the craft of roof thatching.
Thatching was hard work, and by learning this craft, he developed discipline and an attitude of service. If he stayed, he would only be a thatcher, nothing more nothing less. As they part his father says, “this is all I can do for you…watch and learn…go and change your stars.” This is the first trial for the young leader. He is leaving his first mentor and now is under the tutelage of Sir Ector, his new mentor. He quickly learns self-reliance, how to follow and how to be a member of a team.
The next three big life lessons for the leader are decision-making, risk taking and courage. In the movie, the old knight dies just before he is about to win the tournament. The young leader, who has gone from being a page to a squire, has grown up in the mentoring of the Knight and his team, takes a risk and decides he will enter the tournament and fight.
He steps up as a leader to take care of his team in order for all of them to survive. His courage to face the overwhelming challenge changes the fate of him and that of the team. The win inspires him and gives him confidence he did not have prior to the challenge. From this newfound confidence is his ability, he decides to become a Knight. His teammates realize he is not ready and he needs more training and development to meet the challenges of the VUCA environment.
After a period of training and development, the team heads to their first tournament, and along the way they realize they cannot fight under the old knight’s name and must invent a new name and leadership persona. This is the first time we see the young leader reinvent himself.
The Change Begins
He is no longer William; he is a Knight. He has begun the change process. As he competes in tournaments, he gains the professional experience he needs to be a Knight, he gains confidence and self-awareness in his personal life, and as he becomes a Knight, he gains wisdom in his leadership as a team leader.
Part of this change process is the issue of the old armor and new armor. The old armor of the old Knight is the leadership style and teachings of the status quo. As William develops and grows as a leader, his style and his tactics develop, he breaks out of the shell of his old mentor and becomes his own leader.
He puts on the armor of his new leadership, which helps him meet the challenges of the VUCA environment he is encountering. The new armor is light, mobile and allows him greater range of movement against his competitors. He is light, lean and lethal. He has reinvented himself again. The student has surpassed his two mentors.
As he continues to meet the challenges of the tournaments, he grows from thinking that he is a Knight to becoming a Knight. He has emerged from being a thatcher’s son, a page and a squire, to the top of his profession. He is now the expert. His true leadership emerges when his identity is discovered and he is about to be arrested.
A Changed Life
Instead of running from the challenges and adversity, he stands his ground and proclaims that he will not run and that he is a Knight. He accepts what is about to happen to him and accepts the consequences for his decisions. Through his trials, development and experiences he has become the leader he envisioned himself to be. There is no turning back for him…he chose to “Inspire and not Retire”. He is a Knight in the oldest tradition–chivalrous, noble and authentic.
The Prince of England knights him because he recognizes his true leadership, his true purpose and his ability to inspire. Sir William has completed the transformation of his life. Through his disciplined approach and desire to become better, he became victorious in life, his career and leadership. In the end, he “changed his stars”.
What is your leadership story?
Leadership principles are timeless, unfortunately, we are not. We have a finite time here to make a difference and to leave some sort of legacy. If you knew how much time you had to spend on earth would you make different decisions? Would you stop wasting time? Would you take yourself more serious?
F(X) Leadership is about the difference you make in yourself and in your people’s lives every day. It is about the effects and outcomes you want for your life. It is about taking responsibility for your growth and development. F(X) leadership is not about power, position or personality, it is about authenticity, service and preparing yourself for the challenges of life. It is being serious with your approach to developing yourself to be ready for whatever life throws at you. F(X) leadership is not giving in or giving up on yourself. The time is now to radically change your life, career and leadership.
Discover your purpose and then passionately pursue it
The first thing you need to do as a leader is to awaken the leader within you. It is about discovering your true self. It is about seizing control of your life by discovering your purpose, envisioning your future and writing your personal vision and mission statement. It is about not wasting your time.
Truly effective leaders are those who have figured out what is important to them, what matters in their life and what they stand for. They have identified their purpose and are living it daily. F(X) leaders passionately pursue their purpose in life and relentlessly challenge themselves to become better. Few things are more important to a leader than a vision for their life and a mission statement to achieve that vision.
Be transformed by the renewing of your heart, mind, body and soul
Everyday look for ways to renew yourself and build resiliency into your life. Go to the gym or for a walk to strengthen your body. Read a book or take a class to keep your mind focused and thoughtful. Go to your favorite place to worship to renew your soul. Seek out God. Spend time with family and friends to fortify the love in your heart. Finally, energy and enthusiasm are two of the necessary qualities a leader needs to survive and thrive. By renewing yourself you stay energetic and enthusiastic.
Forget the past and move toward the future
Learn from your past mistakes and your past successes, but don’t try to relive them. Progress is about moving forward in your life, career and leadership. Holding on to the past will hold you back from future achievements. By forgetting what is behind you and driving toward the future you will continue to grow, develop and reinvent yourself.
Take time to teach others how to find their purpose and share a piece of your life with them. The best way to learn something is to teach it to another person. It is also the best way to let other people know that you care about their development and are interested in their growth.
Encouragement and Grace
A leader is an agent of hope. Your people want to become the very best they can be and through your leadership they will. Provide encouragement as they grow and develop, it will lift them up and provide the confidence to continue. Bestow grace when they make mistakes. It is very easy to yell and get angry over mistakes, but by doing so you miss an opportunity to continue to develop the person. Show them the error of their ways but reinforce the correct way to do the task or job.
Be a Servant Leader
I believe we are hard-wired to connect and serve with one another. If we were not hard-wired to connect then social media would not have lasted as long as it has. We need to communicate and connect with one another. Serving one another is an outcropping of our leadership and how we develop others.
Inspire or Retire
Finally, Inspire or Retire. The Motto “Inspire or Retire” is a reminder to always inspire yourself and your people. As a leader, if you can no longer inspire your people it is time to step aside and let someone else take the lead. People are looking for leaders who inspire them. They are looking for meaning and purpose, not trophies and awards. When authentic leaders inspire people, they reach new levels of innovation, achievement and commitment.
I agree that “A Knight’s Tale” is a great leadership story…but I’ve always struggled with the deception part of the story. Integrity is such an important aspect of character in a leader, yet in order for William to truly develop and grow into the leader that the Prince knights, it was necessary to him to be less than honest. The system, as it was, did not allow for one of humble means to ascend to the position of a Knight. Often, growing leaders are taught to trust the system, yet had William done that, he never would have put on Sir Ector’s armor and competed. How often are young, capable leaders challenged with doing what is right or doing what is best?