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 chaotic scene of an assembly of Scottish nobles arguing about power and control among the clans.
On the outskirts of the group is William Wallace, who clearly wants nothing to do with the bickering. Wallace climbs the steps to leave the room, and 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. “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 our 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.
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.
As Wallace leaves the room, Robert the Bruce follows him outside. “Wait,” Robert calls. “I want what you want. But we need the nobles.” Wallace laughs and 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. William 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.”
Leadership is about trust you earn, not a title you are given. If your goal is position, power, and status, then you are not a leader. Leadership is about serving, not being served. If serving is beneath you, then leading is beyond you.