My wife and I have become committed fans of the Syfy network show Merlin that chronicles the early years of King Arthur of Camelot and the great wizard Merlin. It is a fun and entertaining show and we are addicted to it.
The episode this past week was entertaining as ever, but buried inside this episode were some really interesting and important leadership lessons. Here’s a Cliff’s Notes version of the episode for those of you who don’t (yet) watch the show.
Arthur, having been recently crowned the King upon his father’s death, is on the run with Merlin and a few others because an evil witch has overtaken Camelot and is intent upon it’s destruction. One of the contributing factors to the fall of Camelot was the young king being betrayed by some advisers who he kept very close to him. Midway through the episode, Arthur loses faith in himself and decides that he is not worthy to be king because of his failures in judgement and leadership.
Merlin, who is formally acting as Arthur’s servant because magic is outlawed in Camelot, has to convince the King that his people love him and that he must lead them to reclaim the kingdom. Merlin then orchestrates a gathering of the knights of Camelot around the famed sword in the stone. Arthur, begrudgingly, approached the sword and attempts to pull the sword out with no luck. Merlin then says to him, “you must believe.” Arthur closes his eyes, finds his resolve and (with a magical assist from Merlin) pulls the sword from the stone! This, of course, puts a fire back in Arthur’s eyes through a restored faith in his leadership abilities and it ignites the passions of his followers. They then rally to storm Camelot against long odds to recapture the city and restore order to the kingdom.
There are some really great lessons in here for those who aspire to greatness in leadership.
- If you don’t believe in yourself, others will struggle to do so. Even when the odds are against you and you’ve failed your way into a bad spot, have faith in yourself so that others may then have faith in you.
- No great leader becomes that way without help. Merlin’s purpose in life is to support and protect Arthur because he believes that Arthur will one day be the greatest of all kings and will restore peace to the region. Arthur doesn’t even know a fraction of what Merlin does for him (including the fact that Merlin is a wizard), but Merlin is central to the young King’s success. Leaders require support, help, encouragement, and guidance just like everyone else. That support sometimes comes from unexpected places.
- Failure strengthens the character and resolve of a leader. At one point in the episode, Arthur comments that as a King, he should have been more wise about who he listened to and trusted. Of course, the irony is that wisdom is earned through experience and, specifically, failure. A wise leader has been down the path many times having succeeded and failed more times than they can recount. Failure doesn’t have any predictive value in determining leadership. It’s what one does through and after failure that makes a leader.
- Humility creates loyalty. As Arthur and his small group were on the run, Arthur treated these people as equals. If they were gathering wood for a fire, he helped. If they were preparing food for a meal, he helped. When one of the men in this group (a stranger they had found in the forest) challenged his authority as the King, Arthur responded simply by saying, “perhaps you are right.” He didn’t feel entitled to the man’s loyalty. Ultimately, this same stranger decided to fight for Arthur as they reclaimed Camelot because he had come to respect him as a leader and a good human being by observing his actions.