As I perused through the 336 pages in the book The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green, I realised Robin Hood had some important leadership lessons to teach us. Leadership lessons that, although they are part of a century-old legend, still apply to our modern-day lives.
There is some confusion in the leadership literature about the methods through which Robin Hood reached his goals and why. The words, “steal from the rich and give to the poor,” mark many a turned phrase, when it comes to this legend. It is true that this phrase may leave us to believe that Robin Hood, just like many of our leaders in Africa and beyond were anarchists. In reality, the message in this phrase with the current leadership crisis is the exact opposite.
Robin Hood believed in the purity of hierarchical systems, an inherent structure that successful administration depends on every single day. He didn’t fight against the concept of leadership. Instead, he encouraged separation by skill, merit, and ability. The entirety of his workings was to return King Richard, the rightful King, to power. It wasn’t the monarchy he was fighting; it was the misuse of it.
Robin, like many chivalrous men of the past, understood something about leadership that many in the modern world are keen to forget: the role of those above is to serve those below not the other way around.
And so, I must introduce you to the legend of Robin Hood’s ultimate nemesis: King John. What was so wrong with King John anyway? If you were to ask Robin Hood, he would have had quite a lot to say in answer.
In its simplest explanation, King John manipulated the very systems, which were set in place to protect those at its lowest tier. In a system designed (at least in its purest sense) to provide for not only for its top tiers but its bottom tiers as well, King John took advantage of the system.
He overthrew the balance. His job as King was to provide safety and security to all his people, but instead, he tipped the scales in favour of himself and of the traitorous noble class that showed him loyalty.
To a man like Robin Hood (and the rightful King he fought for), these acts could be described with only a few choice words; the first of which is pure evil. Robin Hood fought to restore that balance with what he believed to be a rightful and fair King, one that served his people (and not the other way around).
In essence, leadership is important. Leaders need to comprehend that the servitude of their followers is not about servitude to them as an individual.
Rather, it is about servitude for the greater goal. It is about the servitude of the people, the masses, and the voters. We should be mindful of the way some leaders in Africa individualise the servitude of their followers.
Case in point, the late Zimbabwean iconic leader Robert Gabriel Mugabe in his later years in power developed a tendency of firing his followers who developed an interest in serving the greater goal.
In other words, those leaders who put the interest of the public first are regarded as anti-government and are, in some cases, fired. In the case of Robin Hood and King Richard, their goal was to create a success out of the land and out of a people in a society doing its best to thrive. In our case, it might mean creating a successful administration out of serving others nobly with available skills and abilities so that they, in turn, may find their success.
A leader who takes advantage of those who serve beneath him by turning the balance inward and seeking benefit only for his desires is no leader at all. He is what I call a tyrant.
The call for political hygiene as alluded to by Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba cannot be overemphasised in Africa. We desire leaders who lead nobly and with honour, leaders who know and comprehend the true nature of their role and fulfil it humbly.
A good leader should never be a King John, but rather a King Richard, a Robin Hood.