Over this Oscar season, I will be considering the leadership lessons from Best Picture winning movies. Today, I want to consider the movie The King’s Speech, which is the story of King George VI, known as ‘Bertie’ in the royal family. The movie was a 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 VI, 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. Bertie 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 when asked to speak in public.
I want to consider the leadership lesson for a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) through an exploration of its two protagonists, King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue.
King George VII
Dennis Reina, Ph.D. and Michelle Reina, Ph.D., in an article entitled “A Leadership Lesson from The King’s Speech”, consider leadership from the perspective of King George. They developed four key points on leadership from the manner in which he carried himself and tackled his speech impediment head on.
- A leader can accept help. The King was able to accept help. Not only can focused help assist you in a tactical manner but it can also expand your overall leadership authority. 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. In short, you will be seen as more human.
- A leader must trust those around him. You cannot lead alone or in a vacuum, you must have trusted advisors. 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 your 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 which ever leader should consider.
Lesson #1. Establish trust.
Logue was able to establish trust through two key components, courage and competence. Larson said, “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 work-arounds 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 VI and Lionel Logue.
Richard Lummis and myself took a deep dive into this movie on my leadership podcast 12 O’Clock High-Episode 78. You can check it out by clicking here.
Both protagonists in The King’s Speech provide leadership lessons for the CCO or business leader.Click to tweet
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2018