The Empire Strikes Back
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
A life of service. But to whom exactly?
Photo credit : Ken Rixon/Fleet Air Arm
Ten Thirty Mass
Last week, I visited Kyneton, a town in the Macedon region of Victoria.
I took my 88 yo mother to mass at Our Lady of The Rosary . And yes, that means an hour of concentrated Roman Catholicism.
Father Daniel Declan O’Brien is the parish priest. He hails from County Cork in Ireland, like my maternal grandmother.
Declan delivered his homily in 4 minutes and it was a good one.
He described the day in Ireland when his workplace was visited by ‘Liz and Phil’. He was charged with holding the door open for them to pass through.
His parents were pretty unimpressed.
Declan said that kings and queens have their place in society as servants of the people they lead. Or at least that is how it should be.
O’Brien then naturally segued to Christ, who he thought would definitely be holding the door open for him to pass through first; and then JC would turn and ask him to hold the door open for others.
He reminded us that Christ’s kingship is not about pomp and circumstance and protocol; or glitter and gold (that whole thing is for another Holy See type blog); but in humble and sometimes humiliating service.
Humiliating? OK, time for Father to weave in HRH Prince Andrew.
He went on :
“The House of Windsor is in a ‘little spot of bother’. When, as a family, we concentrate too much on what is not important, then we don‘t represent our brand well. Kings and queens, like Christ, should perform a humble service by holding doors open for others so they may enjoy life and live it to the fullest.”
Servant leadership inverts the norm. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people. It's a common theme in Christianity and Eastern (Lao Tsu, Chuang Tzu) and Western (Plato, Cicero) philosophy.
Elizabeth Royal has regularly spoken of her life of duty. In fact in 1947, when she turned 21, she broadcast a speech on BBC radio. The future Queen paid tribute to the people of the Empire and Commonwealth and dedicated her life to serving them.
“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.“
Photo Credit : Royal Collection Trust
Oh, servant leadership is not just for religion and royalty.
Publicly listed US behemoths like Marriott and Starbucks have it as the basis of their culture, too.
HRH : He's quite a guy!
But hasn’t Prince Andrew already seriously served?
In April 1982, Argentinian forces invaded the British territory of the Falkland Islands. Argentina had claimed sovereignty over the islands for many years and did not believe that Britain would attempt to regain the islands by force.
Despite it being miles away, Britain sent a task force of warships to the Falklands.
The big deal was that HRH Prince Andrew was in the fray.
Andrew sailed aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible and co-piloted Sea King helicopters in treacherous conditions. He and his partner acted as decoys for Exocet missiles, drawing them away from their targets. When the SS Atlantic Conveyor was hit by two missiles, with the loss of 12 lives, Andrew was one of the first on the scene, helping to pull survivors to safety.
A former Navy colleague said :
“He is the sort of guy you want with you in difficult situations, courageous and selfless, and able to think under great stress.
“It really annoys me when people who don’t know him call him a freeloader who plays golf all the time when he had such a distinguished military career.”
Since those heady days of Thatcherism, Prince Andrew has covertly and indefensibly remained friends with a convicted child sex offender.
His title, status and privilege was used to firmly close doors precisely when they should be used to open them. He used those things to serve himself.
A Brand Must Take A Stand
Monarchies with power are usually overthrown at some point in time, or seriously downsized in terms of a country’s brand hierarchy.
Here we are in the 2020s and the behaviour of those in power - brands, governments, institutions - is reaching peak scrutiny.
The community is loudly calling them to account. And if bad behaviour is not seen to be dealt with, the public will abandon said power holders in droves.
They will build or find alternatives.
The House of Windsor moved swiftly to damage control and iced HRH from its operation. After all, the brand is king.
And Andrew is just a prince.
I met Father O’Brien on the sunny blue stone steps after mass. He was wearing an Apple watch. Declan could be described as ‘portly’.
Me : “Do you ever use the fitness function on the watch, Father. You know, to count your steps?”
Father Daniel Declan O’Brien (Cork brogue) : ”Aaarghhhhhh. Sometimes the truth doesn’t set you free. It just makes you feel bad.”
Adversity is one way to discover the stuff from which a leader is made.
But I think that going about your day with omnipotent power and assumed entitlement is probably the toughest and ultimate test of anyone’s character, reputation or brand.