In the Academy Award winning movie Braveheart, there is a fascinating scene that speaks profoundly to what it means to be a leader. The segment opens to a scene of Scottish nobles surrounding William Wallace, who is kneeling and receiving the honor of knighthood. Following the ceremony, the assembly quickly degenerates into chaos as the nobles begin shouting at each other and arguing over claims to land & power. Wallace clearly wants nothing to do with the bickering and climbs the steps to leave the room. Just before he reaches the door one of the nobles shouts, “Hey … Sir William! Where are you going?”
Wallace turns back and addresses the assembly. “We have beaten the English,” he says, “but they’ll come back … because you won’t stand together.”
The noble who challenged him asks, “What would you do?”
“I will invade England,” Wallace declares, “and defeat the English on their own ground.”
The nobles are incredulous. “Invade?” one of them says. “That’s impossible!”
Wallace quickly responds. “Why?” he asks. “Why is that impossible? You’re so concerned with squabbling for the scraps from Longshank’s table that you’ve missed your God-given right to something better!”
What Wallace says next strikes to the heart of leadership. “There’s a difference between us,” he proclaims to the group. “You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.”
The nobles are dumbstruck. They aren’t sure how to respond. William Wallace pauses at the top of the stairs, looks defiantly at the assembly, and leaves the room. With Wallace’s departure, the nobles resume their bickering and arguing.
Take a moment and consider Wallace’s message. Ask yourself: What kind of a leader am I? Am I a noble that uses my position to protect the power and privilege that come with it? Or am I a leader — a real leader — who serves the people on my team and works hard to make sure they have what they need to succeed?
There are far too many people in positions of leadership who have the mindset of a noble. They see leadership as an opportunity to advance their personal goals and careers, rather than a responsibility to advance the performance and success of the people and teams they lead.
They have somehow missed one of the cornerstones of leadership: It’s not about you!
What mindset do you bring to leadership? Do you believe the people in your organization exist to provide you with position, or do you believe your position in the organization exists to provide people with real leadership?
The scene isn’t over. Neither is the lesson on leadership.
The Courage to Lead
As Wallace leaves the room, Robert the Bruce follows him outside. “Wait,” Robert calls. Wallace stops and turns to listen to what Robert has to say. “I respect what you said,” Robert assures him, “but remember that these men have lands and castles. There is much to risk.”
Wallace’s response is immediate. “And the common man that bleeds on the battlefield, does he risk less?”
“No,” Robert says, “but from top to bottom this country has got no sense of itself.” He pauses and then tells Wallace, “I want what you want. But we need the nobles.”
Wallace laughs at Robert’s comment and then asks, “Now tell me, what does that mean to be ‘noble?’”
And then comes the defining moment of the scene … maybe the defining moment of the entire movie. Wallace looks intently at Robert the Bruce and says, “Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country. But men don’t follow titles. They follow courage.”
Wallace continues. “Our people know you. Noble and common, they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom they’d follow you.” Wallace steps closer to Robert and says, “And so would I.” With that, William Wallace turns quickly and walks away.
The truth is that real leadership is earned, not given. It’s about the person, not the position. You are not a leader because you have a title. You are a leader because you have the courage to act on behalf of the mission and the people you serve.
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