Macbeth, Hamlet and Your Business Results

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

Are you Macbeth?

Are you Hamlet?

Are you somewhere in between?  (I hope so)

Scottish warrior and nobleman Macbeth was impetuous. He took bold, reckless actions without first thinking things through.  His fears, insecurities, superstitions and unreasonable desires were his main influences, with no support from deep thought or any consideration of consequences.  With very little deliberation he kills the king, two palace guards and his good friend Banquo, all to fuel self-advancement.  His rash behavior continues, eventually leading to his downfall.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, was, in many ways, the opposite of Macbeth.Where Macbeth acted without thinking, Hamlet thought without acting.In the first half of the play he realizes that his uncle has killed his father, and then spends the balance of the play pondering whether to act. He waits until the very end of the story to make his move, and, although he does eventually kill his uncle to avenge his father, his lack of action leads to many other deaths, including his and his mother’s.

Latent ProfitBoth of these plays are called tragedies, because the hero’s fatal flaw leads to his demise. Both of these guy blew it, but for nearly opposite reasons. Incidentally, they both make awful role models for business leaders.

To create a successful business, you don’t want to be either Macbeth or Hamlet. I’ve have seen many CEOs play these roles, and in the end, it’s never pretty.

Where Macbeth fails immediately, Hamlet gets off to a good start.  Analyzing the situation, figuring out what’s going on, and thinking your way to good conclusions is always a good idea. It’s just that Hamlet doesn’t do anything constructive with the fruits of his reasoning. He falls into a cycle of questioning and self-doubt that makes him fearful of action. At the same time, he continues to display a razor sharp wit and a quick mind, reminding us that Hamlet knows what he should do, but he just can’t do it.

If you want to drive business results and the value of your organization, never be an impetuous Macbeth. Shakespeare has many heroes who fall because of impulsive behavior, in addition to Macbeth, such as Romeo, Lear, Antony and Othello. He clearly has an opinion about the dangers of impetuous behavior, and we can only imagine the tragic, impulsive CEO characters he would create if he were alive today writing screenplays.

If Shakespeare were a CEO coach, he would clearly encourage his clients to analyze and discern his situation like Hamlet does at first, but then he would insist they act decisively.  Shakespeare’s portrayal of Hamlet shows us what he really thinks about inaction.

Coach Shakespeare would likely point to two of his comedic heroines, Rosalind from As You Like It and Viola from Twelfth Night.  These two brilliant women perfectly assessed their situations and then acted with determination to create the futures they wanted for themselves.

Forget Macbeth and Hamlet. Be Rosalind or Viola. Create your future by thinking deeply to evaluate your situation and determine your course, and then make things happen. Now.

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