I think almost since I began thinking about leadership as a twelve-year-old, I’ve been told to “lead by example.” And I promise, that has always been my aim. So often, however, I fail. There are so many times when I do something that I would not want my son doing, or someone that works for me doing. I do what I would not have done to me. And while it seems like more and more that is the way of the world, I still recoil when I catch myself in this.
In the film Braveheart, William Wallace leads by example. Here are three instances:
- 1) He fights in the front, as opposed to the English who lead from the rear.
- 2) He takes the risk on himself both when he meets the English emissary who turns out to be the Princess, and when he personally travels to the Bruce, only to be betrayed.
- 3) Rather than distancing himself from the army he commands, he shares the same circumstances as his comrades.
The contrast between William Wallace and Longshanks is striking. Longshanks (at least in the film) stays well back of the action. He may have broken a sweat from being in his armor, but he barely moved during the battle of Falkirk. He had rank upon rank of infantry, cavalry, and archers between himself and the Scots. Meanwhile, William Wallace leads his men in the charge. He is always in the thick of the fighting, leaving it only when he realizes victory was lost. Wallace breaks from the combat, and rides like fury to reach Longshanks in a desperate attempt to win by taking or killing the king, only to be delayed by a knight who is ordered to “protect the king.” That knight turns out to be Robert the Bruce.
The shock on Gibson’s face as he portrays the betrayal Wallace had to have felt is gut-wrenching. You can feel the pain as if it were Chris Rock being slapped by Will Smith.
Amazingly enough, William continues to show the way even after being betrayed by Robert the Bruce. Part of leading from the front (funny how many people preach that and how many hide behind a desk) is taking the same risks your people are facing. Often they are more willing to suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” when you are suffering right next to the. And three times during the movie, Wallace takes risks with little backup. The first time is when he meets Princess Isabella. For all he knew she could have been setting a trap. In history, she later was known as the “she-wolf of France.” Possibly I’ll have more to say on that later, and I don’t wish to digress too much, as many have already pointed out, she would have been no more than ten when Wallace was executed, but for the purposes of good fiction I see no reason why she couldn’t have gone all “Zena Warrior Princess” on him and the two fight MMA style.
The second time he takes a risk is when he goes to a hut where the Princess is supposed to be to negotiate (side note….she’s a Princess….the best we can do is a hut? Oh well….budget cuts and all). But Wallace has been warned by the cagy Princess, and instead of being gutted (then) he burns the assassins alive. Then in a few scenes, he beds the Princess. I’ve gotta take notes from this guy.
The last risk he takes is fatal. He takes the Bruce at his word, and it leads to his execution. But as he tells his friends before leaving…”Ya know what happens if I don’t go? Nothing.” And we already established the status quo was valde inconveniens.
At least within the film, the risk Wallace took was not in vain. Robert did not intend to betray Wallace (again), instead it was that damned Menteith that did it. Wallace’s death inspires Robert to change his wicked ways, and he rallies the people to him, and wins the Scot’s their freedom.
My last point, Wallace shows the way by sharing, not just the fighting, but also the daily living of the men he commands. In the film he is not raised in a castle or keep, but on a Scottish farm built with peat, like his neighbors. He hunts, he eats with them around the camp fire. He is “one of the boys.” You can imagine sharing a tankard of ale with him as you talk about the last battle.
I’m getting too old to stay up this late. Next post: How the Beaten Scotts Found Courage (and They Didn’t Get it From Oz).
I am enjoying the Braveheart posts so much! HUZZAHH!!!