Portland Leadership Institute - Nourish the Leader Within You
Leadership for the 21st Century

LBJ, MLK, Henry V: What is there for us today?

This was an extraordinary year in Ashland, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 2012 combined Chekhov, Marx (Groucho, not Karl), ancient Japanese mythology, and the Black Panthers. The Very Merry Wives of Windsor brought Falstaff to Iowa as a defeated and broke presidential candidate, suffering the pangs of defeat in the caucuses. And one utterly bizarre and incredible play was titled Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella. You figure it out.

But the biggest leadership lessons came from "All the Way" with LBJ (you remember the 1964 Presidential campaign slogan, don't you?) and Henry V, starring the unforgettable John Tufts, playing Prince Hal/Henry for the third consecutive year in the trilogy.

Putting it simply, "All the Way" was about The USE OF POWER by someone who has groomed himself his entire life for just this moment.

LBJ was pure power manipulation, pure force and ingratiation, combined with a knowledge of how to get to everyone. Beginning in November 1963 LBJ had to show that he could become trusted on Civil Rights, when everyone was unsure whether he meant what he said. He worked with MLK and against J. Edgar Hoover, both of whom had surprisingly similar leadership styles. All three formed coalitions and occasionally, in today's language, threw a trusted ally under the bus.

Henry V: The USE OF POWER by someone who has been groomed all his life for just this moment. Henry V had to show that he too could become a leader. He had to prove himself. He had to throw his old friends, chiefly Falstaff, the court jester, under the bus in order to prove his own worthiness.

50 years later we remember only the good of MLK, and much of the negative of LBJ. Each reached his peak in 1964, each fell in 1968.

500 years later we see Henry V and Richard III in similar veins, Henry good, Richard evil. Both kill without mercy, create havoc, then woo the innocent girl.

Tufts thinks the distinction is Honor vs. Power. Henry kills out of a sense of honor, to do better for England. Richard kills only for power. Richard tells us that he will do bad, and he revels in having us see him be evil. We want to watch Henry develop,but we have a subtle satisfaction in watching Richard snarl as his evil was ignored.

Yet the true characters have little that is different between then. It is Shakespeare's propaganda that makes the difference. Richard was not as bad, Henry not as good as Shakespeare made them. Was old Will the first media spin doctor, exemplifying honor in one, power in the other, when they were actually relatively similar?

And what does this mean for leaders today?

As Henry began a process of self discovery as a youth, so did LBJ upon winning his first congressional election before the age of 30. Henry IV usurped the crown when Prince Hal was 14, turning Hal's life upside down.  He had to face his new reality as the future Henry V. This happened to LBJ, Nov. 22, 1963. Preparing, not quite ready.

So often this is how it is for many great leaders. Leadership is thrust upon them.

And yes, there is a cost of leadership.   Expectations are placed on them, but they pay prices to achieve those goals.  There is compromise, loss of colleagues, loss of minor goals.

On Nov. 21, 1963, LBJ could go to his ranch and pull his dog's ears with no one caring.  It all changed the next day.  He, as Henry V and MLK and everyone else before and after them, worked on creating his own legend.

When we have opportunity to see a leader from afar, we are permitted to view the personal journey.  In order to see the full picture and learn from their successes and tragedies, we need to see what they have paid, where they have lost.  We recognize that often there is little difference between them and us.

 



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