I was so immensely touched by a movie I saw last week called “The King’s Speech.” It’s about King George VI, who accidentally became King of England upon the abdication of his older brother Edward VIII in 1936 on the eve of WWII.
George VI was deemed imminently unsuitable to become British monarch because of his debilitating and humiliating stutter. It was unimaginable that this man could inspire and lead his people with such a handicap. The film chronicles George’s attempt to overcome this severe and very public embarrassment.
For me George VI’s story is a tale that informs and inspires me in my own attempts to lead my company from my own flawed foundation that is the heritage of being human.
Corporate leaders are all stutterers in one form or another. It is an audacious act to create a company despite the inadequacies that, in their variegated ways, are the fundamental heritage of all people and why I have always felt the foundational virtue of entrepreneurship is simply courage.
Colin Firth, who portrays George with an admirable combination of determined fortitude and raw emotional nakedness that will surely win an Academy Award this year, describes watching archival footage depicting George VI’s stutter. “You see the neck and mouth go. I found it heartbreaking, literally tear-jerking. Something really hit me watching that. I saw the vulnerability and immense courage, all wrapped up in one moment.” (Interview in the Wall Street Journal by David Mermelstein–January 19, 2011)
The quality of effective corporate leadership that I most admire combines a practical modesty with a frontiersman’s ability to step fearlessly into the unknown. Perhaps entrepreneurship is truly the last frontier, now that all physical frontiers have been explored and conquered.
One of the problems of my own generation–that of the baby boomers–is that we have perhaps come to think too highly of ourselves. We seem to have lost the innate humility that comes from an acknowledgment of our fallen, flawed nature, what we unapologetically used to call sin, the state of being less than God. Ideal corporate leadership is mindful of the practical reality of human limitation and imperfection.
“The King’s Speech” gives a piquant reminder of the limitations in each of us as corporate leaders, as well as the earned dignity imbued from both the acceptance of that imperfect human state and its vanquishment where possible. Healthy entrepreneurial leadership exists in a balanced place between narcissistic overconfidence and an immobilizing despair at our inevitable insufficiencies.