Shakespeare uses lessons from Richard II, King Lear and Antony – all had plays named after them (even if Antony had to share his billing with Cleopatra). He starts each of his plays with a great deal of power. The trajectory from power to humiliation is a strong one.
At one level this is the simple human lesson you must remember when you riding high. Even at the pinnacle of your success, you might fall. For the above 3 leaders, this lesson is not recognized, which makes the experience of collapse all the more problematic. All 3 leaders depend on their authority alone to give them the right to lead.
Having all the power is not enough
Shakespeare says that even for a successful leader success and failure exist, both as an integral part of the experience in teh same person. Even while the 3 leaders in Shakespeare’s plays fail badly in the end, in each play there is for some time considerable success:
1) Against the odds, Shakespeare’s Richard III does become King of England and reigns for some time.
2) Against expectations, his Macbeth does become King of Scotland
3) For most of the play, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is unbeatable when he has a sword in his hand.
Despite the fact that each play ends in tears, these people are not underachievers. They make it to the peak of their profession. What makes Shakespeare a great writer is that their success, the reason they make it to the top, is also the reason they fail humiliatingly.
The lesson from each character is a harsh one. If you do it this way, it may work for a while but in the end it will be a disaster. Each drama is a warning against the short-term effects of a very good set of tactics that undermine themselves in the long term.
The opposite lessons to learn are :
1) For Richard III, brilliant manipulation coupled with action can get you everything you want.
2) For Macbeth, one decisive act can achieve your ambition
3) For Coriolanus, sticking to being an aloof and powerful leader will get you the throne.
But by the end of the play, each strength has become a weakness and the leaders fail
Power and ambition in the workplace
It is the job of managers to manage the effects of office politics alongside every other activity within their area of responsibility. The higher they move up the organizational ladder the more important will be the stakes in office politics and the more difficult will be the managers’ work.
Fear, anger, loyalty, betrayal and ambition take place within real mangement all the time. Reaching people, helping them give that extra ounce of effort, motivating them to really believe the organization’s vision, can only happen if their managers are genuinely in touch with them. People can only be moved in this way through some form of emotional relationship.
Being ambitious is not enough
Ambition is one of the main drivers for the individual distribution of power within organizations. Coriolanus as a leader believes that he can only truly lead his people by removing all traces of humanity from his life. This deliberate absence of humanity appears to make him a great leader and for a while this lack of humanity brings him success. However just as vaulting ambition gained Richard III and Macbeth their kingdom but in the end destroyed them, so does Coriolanus’s lack of humanity. Powerful ambition, carried out and acted on in such a way as to dominate all activity in your life, will ruin not only your own life but the lives of people around you.