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How to be a warrior leader – and why not to be one

Warrior Leaders are the epitome of courage and strength. They embody a cultural archetype of the hero. The shadow side brings forth all sorts of problems. They develop Win First cultures, and divide people between Us and Them. If we aspire to build a more inclusive and peaceful culture, let’s focus on how we can BUILD (not just WIN) at work, and how we can INCLUDE (and not EXCLUDE).

I watched the new Netflix movie, The King, about the English King Henry V. I’m a history buff, and fascinated by the rise and fall of leaders. Henry V, or Hal, was a warrior king. He won the battle of Agincourt against bitter odds and set up the English throne for subjugation of the French. (never happened – he died before he could take the French throne).

Warrior leaders like Hal are incredibly seductive. They fight for a noble cause (though subjugating the French may not be seen as ‘noble’ to any but the English), they reduce issues to black and white ideals, and they self-sacrifice gallantly, leading the way. That kind of energy is attractive, regardless of the morality.

Sometimes the fight is right: if someone threatens you and your family, then you need to defend yourself. 

More often the divisions are illusions. We draw imaginary lines between “us” and “them.”

Warrior Leaders gone bad are divisive. 

They build walls, not bridges. They exclude, don’t include. They see more threat and less opportunity. They see winners, and losers. It’s a zero sum game.

Warrior Leaders and Win First Cultures

Warrior leaders gone bad are obsessed with results. They create Win First Cultures. They play to win and targets are everything. While these cultures can have a huge work ethic, they can turn bad quickly. Australian Cricket was cited as having a ‘win without considering the costs’ attitude. So did many of the banks who fell to unethical practices just to meet targets.

Warrior Leaders are focused on WINNING, they see business as a competition and the objective is to come out on top. 

The alternative is to be focused on BUILDING, to see business as an opportunity to provide long-term value and contribution.

Warrior Leaders default to EXCLUSION and are naturally more suspicious and take either an aggressive or defensive stance. 

Leaders who default to INCLUSION on the other hand want outcomes that benefit more than just their own business.

The Upside of the Warrior Leader

I wish we lived in a world where more leaders were focused on building and inclusion. Sadly, there are many that are aggressive with a winner takes all attitude. Until we move the culture more towards collaboration and inclusion, we will still need to activate the strengths of the warrior leader.

These strengths are: 

  • Ferocious commitment to a cause
  • Courage under fire
  • Tenacity
  • Self sacrifice 
  • Values-driven decisions
  • Passion and vision.

How might you hone your warrior strengths? How can you avoid the pitfalls of warrior power?

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