In this episode, Richard Lummis and I consider the leadership lessons from the movie The King’s Speech, which is the story of King George VII, known as ‘Bertie’ in the royal family, in historical drama film directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler. Colin Firth plays the future King George VI who, to overcome a stammer, seeks assistance from Lionel Logue, an Australian speech and language therapist played by Geoffrey Rush. The men become friends as they work together, and after his brother abdicates the throne, the new king relies on Logue to help him make his first wartime radio broadcast on Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1939.
Prior to his ascension to the throne where he became George VII, Bertie was Albert, Duke of York. He became King of England after the abdication of his brother, Edward VII for the woman he loved, America divorcee Wallis Simpson. King George was not in line to become the King but only did so due to the unique circumstances of Edward’s abdication. This meant he had never trained to be King and was not even given any rudimentary lessons on being the monarch. Worst of all was a debilitating speech impediment which caused him to stammer for long periods of time which asked to speak in public.
Sarah Hawthorn in “12 Leadership Lessons from “The King’s Speech”; examined what she saw as 12 issues Bertie had to resolve in order to become King of England, as they relate to the process of preparing to be a truly outstanding corporate leader. The apply to almost any senior leadership position. To be fully qualified to assume the throne Hawthorn believed had to:
- Become committed to doing whatever was required to prepare himself for his royal role.
- Change his internal self-image and own the idea of actually being a successful King.
- Trust in a mentor to help him advance to this position of power and then continue his growth
and development even after accepting the exalted position of King.
- Practice relentlessly between sessions with his coach as he followed an intentional action plan
and blueprint for overcoming obstacles and self-sabotaging internalized beliefs.
- Develop confidence in himself and faith in the unseen – regardless of his daily reality.
- Visualize a flawless leadership performance within the theatre of his mind.
- Push past the ego in order to seek assistance to realize and leverage his full potential.
- Overcome early childhood identity issues and resolve prior life failures and humiliations.
- Take the initial bold step by delivering his first wartime speech to the world despite his speech
challenges and his apprehension about being thrust into the spotlight.
- Act with courage, perseverance, and passion because he knew his people needed to hear an
inspiring and persuasive message from him during a tumultuous time of crisis.
- Follow through by exuding confidence and regal presence after giving his first speech.
- Know that by stretching beyond his comfort zone that his fears would subside.
Dennis Reina and Michelle Reina in an article entitled, “A Leadership Lesson from The King’s Speech” consider leadership from the perspective of King George. The developed four key points on leadership from the manner in which he carried himself and tackled his speech impediment head on.
- I am the leader, but I can accept help.” The King was able to accept help. The authors noted, “Your people want and need you to lead. So, if asking for and accepting help will enable you to be a better leader, it’d be a smart move on your part to do it. What’s more, by example, you’d be letting others in the organization know it’s okay to ask for help—to acknowledge their “human-ness” and accept assistance. As a result, relationships would deepen, trust and respect would grow, and people would be better able to give their very best to the business.”
- If you accept help you are vulnerable. The more you can understand yourself as a leader, including your vulnerabilities, the better a leader you will become. If you hide your faults, you are not fooling anyone, and they will have to build processes and procedures to overcome them.
- A leader must trust those around him. The authors believe that “Feeling uncertain about whom you can really trust and depend on is normal, even legitimate. So, at first, select just one or two people and start slowly with small, safe steps. Set clear expectations. Lay out the ground rules. And make specific agreements to help you stay on track. Give people a chance to earn your trust and, odds are, you’ll reap valuable rewards.”
- Your personal life informs you professional life. Put another way, if you are a wife-beater in private, you will be volatile in your professional life. This is because, “You’re a whole person, and your success comes from the sum of all your experiences. Additionally, as a leader, your ability to build and rebuild trust with others has a lot to do with how you’ve dealt with situations of broken trust in your own life. If you don’t want to “go there” with people within your organization, look for someone on the outside—your own Lionel Logue.”
Finally, are the leadership lessons from the other protagonist, Lionel Logue. The first thing to note is that he was not a medical doctor or even a licensed speech therapist. Elizabeth Larson, in an article entitled, “Lessons from The King’s Speech—How to Influence Without Authority” noted the relationship between the two key characters began when the future king was still the Duke of York, Albert. “At first the relationship is a rocky one. Although he eventually becomes the king’s trusted advisor, Mr. Logue doesn’t begin the relationship as such. He has little to recommend him since neither his credentials nor his social status grant him instant credibility. The disparity in their births, culture (Logue was Australian), and breeding is daunting.” Larson posed the interesting question of how was this commoner “able to help the monarch and become his life-long friend?” It was because Logue was a master at influencing with absolutely no authority. Larson gave three examples whichever leader should consider.
Lesson #1. Establish trust.
Logue was able to establish trust through its two key components, courage and competence. Larson said that “Logue has to demonstrate his courage and prove his competency by getting
results.” Logue demands a level of intimacy not usually seen between a commoner and a royal. It included using first names and therapy sessions at Logue’s home and office but not royal palaces.
Larson believes courage is a key component of leadership. She said, “Our projects require us to be courageous. In some organizations, it takes a great deal of courage to be the bearer of bad news, as when we need to provide accurate project status or when we point out risks. It takes courage to recommend the right thing for the organization, like a new direction, a new process, or a long-range solution when the organization wants short-term fixes. What gives us courage, of course, is knowing what we’re talking about. It’s having the facts and the statistic to back up our recommendations. It’s being prepared. It’s also the ability to articulate and sell our recommendations. When our recommendations turn out to help our organizations, we gain credibility and build trust.”
Lesson #2. Promote the organization’s goals, not your own goals.
Even though Logue is the therapist, it is always the King’s decision on continuing the sessions. Moreover, Logue’s advice is not given for Logue’s personal gain but always in the interest of the monarch and by default the country. As an influencer, you should provide guidance without promoting your own goal. This will help the organization to achieve its overall goals.
Lesson #3. Empathy and Respect in Relationship.
Logue treats the King and his disability with both empathy and concern. He does not embarrass or condescend to the King. He patiently works with him through practice, exercises and workarounds to overcome his speech impediment.
Larson concludes by stating, “In our organizations, we have a greater chance of influencing when our approach is respectful, authentic, and empathetic. Expertise alone does not create competency. Most people do not relate well to “know-it-alls,” and trying to showcase our expertise rarely builds credibility. We are most successful when we use our expertise to support the organization, rather than for personal gain or visibility.”
In addition to a great historical piece and a great movie, there are several key lessons for every leader in The King’s Speech. I hope you will take the time to visit or revisit the movie and learn some of them from both King George VII and Lionel Logue.