BY Clare Rhoden
In these uncertain times, we are all looking for great leaders.
When I wrote a novel about Australians in the World War One (WWI), I discovered that there are many different interpretations of good leadership.
It’s a bit of a cliché in Britain that the WWI leaders let their men down. You might remember the joke from Blackadder Goes Forth about an attack being ordered because General Haig wanted to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.
It’s not quite the same for us downunder. We still revere John Monash, William Birdwood and Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott – we saved our greatest disgust for their superiors from Britain, fairly or unfairly. For the Australians, good leadership was essential to any success, because alone of all the combatant nations in the conflict, ours was an entirely volunteer force. Leading volunteers is different. I had to research how various styles of leadership look in fiction, before I could convincingly create effective characters in my own novel.
I checked out Shakespeare’s great leaders. The Bard knows that simply naming a man ‘leader’ is not enough. Look how he portrays Richard II and King Lear: they fail to act their kingly parts and come to sticky ends. Richard III and MacBeth use their power for personal gain with the same result. Gathering treasure for yourself would be fine for a leader in Alexander’s Macedonia, but not in Shakespeare’s day, or ours. Coriolanus, even while leading from the front, separates himself from his emotions and becomes too distant from his followers. He ends up despising them, and they rise up against him. Again, he comes to sticky end.
However, Henry V is successful and heroic. He can relate to ordinary people as well as high-caste advisers, and he links his emotions with his responsibilities. Henry V has confidence in himself and instils it in others (‘once more …’). He instigates change and takes the long view rather than the easy road. He doesn’t lie, even in dire circumstances. Most importantly, Hal can invest dreadful situations with coherence and meaning (‘we few, we happy few …’). I needed somebody with this kind of leadership in my novel.
Maybe it’s what the world needs now.
About the author
Clare Rhoden is an author and book reviewer living in Melbourne Australia. Her historical novel The Stars in the Night follows the adventures of one South Australian family through the First World War. The novel was based on her PhD studies into leadership in Australian WWI narratives, and was inspired by the experiences of her grandparents who emigrated to Adelaide in January 1914.
Clare has also written a dystopian trilogy The Chronicles of the Pale, inspired by the worldwide refugee and climate crises. Strangely enough, dystopia and WWI seem to go well together.