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Coriolanus – and Steve Jobs

Can leaders prevail on sheer brilliance? Will drive overcome all and is it the best leadership virtue? Does bravery and will equal the right to rise to the top?

There may be a few of you who have seen Ralph Fiennes’ fine film version of Shakespeare’s last play. I hope, after this, there will be more.

Updated, the battles between the Romans and the Volscans are fought in Bosnia. The glorious language, much stronger than I was expecting for this seldom heard work, is clear and doesn’t detract from following the story.

But the themes are eternal. Coriolanus is the pitch perfect warrior – one whose guts and determination despite mortal danger – wins the war almost alone. His animus, his mother [the unconquerable Vanessa Redgrave], is proud of him, his wounds and contemptuous of those without courage. And the politicians. They enjoy the fruits of his agression – the security from the Volskian threat – and at first acclaim him as the new Consul of the State, on the basis of merit alone.

But there are also the people, always the people, with views of their own. And yet more politicians, who can sniff the wind and capitalize on its movements. So at first the new Consul who must be affirmed by the populace is endorsed. Coriolanus will not cater to them, will not curry favor. He stands on his record, lets his work do the talking. This comes back on him as arrogance and results in a reversal and refutation. Worse, he is banished, run out of Rome.

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize As the dead carcasses of unburied men That do corrupt my air,–I banish you; And here remain with your uncertainty!
Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts!

And matters of revenge – and to whom does he owe the highest duty – unfold from there. The outcome is quite startling.

Do leaders need to curry favor? Steve Jobs didn’t. He was a megalomaniac jerk – interpersonally. He stood on a platform of superb design, the user experience through an integrated approach, A players. And he was able to make it stick, despite – or maybe because of – despicable behavior to “his people”.

But he too was banished by “the people”. And spent time in the wilderness of NeXT. And he did come back to Apple. But he appealed – again on merit [the merit of his products] – over the heads of “the people” [the corporate rabble] to the real People, the consumer, and was vindicated by floods of value, which translated into power and money.

A modern parable – well told and deeply researched in the seemingly instant biography by Walter Isaacson.

Do driven bullies win? Are interpersonal excesses justified by outcomes? Can you lead without the endorsement of your “followers”?

Two different fates, both despising sheepish followers. In one case, maybe, yes and the other, perhaps, no. See for yourself. Which is which? – in your mind.

Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

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Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


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