Article: Fair is foul and foul is fair: Leadership insights from Macbeth


Fair is foul and foul is fair: Leadership insights from Macbeth

Drawing imitable similarities between Shakespeare's tragedy hero, Macbeth and a leader, who has just taken the reigns in his hands, Rajeshwar Upadhyaya says that the position of power brings out the worst from unprepared leaders
Fair is foul and foul is fair: Leadership insights from Macbeth

When you are a top man, your focus is internal -in the inside-out logic


It is a sad testament to those unprepared for leadership - position of power brings out their worst - their weaknesses and not their strengths


Leadership Insights from Macbeth

Very simply Macbeth overreached himself. His level of competence was as the second most powerful man. This is where he peaked and would have surely been a great success as King Duncan’s next in command, quite like George Patton who was, in the opinion of his senior, the world’s best subordinate. Compared with Claudius (from Hamlet, featured in the July-August issue) -- Macbeth has alienated everybody. Cladius, on the other hand, has alienated none. Also when Cladius murders the King, nobody knows. When Macbeth murders the king, everybody knows.

Once moved by ambition, Macbeth moves very fast and is soon on the other side of ruthlessness. He would kill everybody as for Macbeth, greed is greater than ability. To begin with, Macbeth murders Duncan against his will, that is, against his svadharma. He is mediated by his wife but the action itself acquires a momentum and forces a series of actions that are intended to cope with the outcomes of the first. But these in return have further consequences. Before Macbeth knows it, collective outcomes are in excess of his ability to cope.

Psychologically Macbeth was not ready for kingship. The witches are Macbeth’s anima, that is, his shadow side -- the un-integrated part of Macbeth’s psyche (his secret and vicious desires). When you are a top man, your focus is internal -- in the inside-out logic. Macbeth very obviously has no inside domain. He operates purely from the external -- ferocious warrior, titles and then the final title of the king’s crown. Even when he consults the witches he is too literal and the whole metaphor quite excludes him. His introspections are maniacally depressive and pessimistic -- beautiful poetry and that kind of talking can come from a man who has nowhere to go and more fatally there is nowhere he wants to go. Macbeth resides on the outside and this is a good place for a second in command to be. Also the top person requires an ability with abstract level of thinking, which happens in the context of external relationships. Macbeth is also like the dog who won’t let the cow eat the hay -- he has no children and objects to Banquo’s children being king after him. This is the insecurity of someone on the lower levels of the Maslowian hierarchy of needs and not that of a leader whose energies are towards self actualization.

In reality, Macbeth comes across as completely lacking in emotional intelligence -- with virtually no self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and social skill. As one pursues the character of Macbeth, it can be completely substantiated that Macbeth slowly isolates himself from others and has no new data to process save those that are ambiguously fed by supernatural sources. This may as well resonate with leaders who resort to Para psychological tools to better their condition in the phenomenological world. From a rationalist perspective, this is quite ridiculous!

On the further reaches of isolation, Macbeth stops talking and listening to his friends. He closes all lines of communication as he withdraws into his inner darkness -- hopeless and ruthless as it was. As a consequence, he has no neutral or external source of reference -- nothing to benchmark his performance, his views, his competitive intelligence! And when he does reach out, it is to the witches that “tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence.” This very obviously is the action of a man who knows his level of competence and yet allows greed to overtake his sensibility. Once on the other side, he does everything to keep the act of competence, power and influence up! Deadly, for he continued killing innocents thus facilitating the opposition to unite in their brutal force. A great general has suddenly become a bad king. Sounds familiar, almost clichéd, where a good manager gets promoted to a leadership position and results in a lose-lose situation.

Macbeth then brings himself to that height on the corporate ladder where he is the king but has slowly depleted himself by his vagrant activities -- all intended to just maintain his position as sovereign and in return, leaves him with no reserves. At this level of exhaustion, Macbeth has put himself at a point of no return. The point of no return is also beyond care and this is where is made that most pessimistic speech in the whole of the English language -- “Life’s but a walking shadow/ a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage / and then is heard no more./ It is a tale told by an idiot/ Full of sound and fury signifying nothing”.

It is clear in Macbeth that you cannot stop the consequences of your action. As one drifts further into the mire of illegitimate actions, he will find himself isolated and that very source that lent him strength will now desert him and what will fill the space is self-destructive superstition. Macbeth actually began to believe in his immortality, much like the Asuras in Hindu mythology, until a trick finding renders him vulnerable. He actually believed that the forest cannot move towards him and therefore he is beyond danger! Any market report that sings the invulnerability of the client organization is full of bluff and the only appropriate response from a sensible CEO is to give the agency the sack! Macbeth believed what he emotionally hoped for and all his rationality rushed to construct self-deluding beliefs. This only served to hasten his end.

It is a sad testament to those unprepared for leadership -- position of power brings out their worst -- their weaknesses and not their strengths. Macbeth, the finest fighting machine in Duncan’s kingdom, honoured and admired by all, by the end of the play becomes petty, jealous, myopic, and afraid. A hero of a man in unending decay!

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