Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO, CommunicationsMatchTM
Once upon a time, among the privileges of being a King or Queen was you could pretty much do what you wanted.
You wanted someone’s head cut off, you gave the word. You wanted to punish people for their catholic, protestant or muslim religion, they went to the Tower or you launched a crusade. When your Lords got uppity, you could take away their castles. You could tax the poor punitively and press-gang them to fight your wars. And, you also got to re-write history in ways that fit the story you wanted to tell. Sounds familiar?
A New Year’s visit to England and France served as a valuable reminder of why Kings and Queens need the consent of the people to govern.
In the Sussex market town of Lewes, from its William the Conqueror era castle, I looked out over lush green fields to where some 750 years ago the Battle of the Lewes took place. This decisive battle in British history was won by Simon de Montfort against the crown to defend the rights and role of the Barons in running the country, established under the Magna Carta 50 years earlier. The battle ultimately led to the establishment of Parliament.
In short, the Barons of England having watched the national treasury being emptied by the King, basically said, “no taxes without representation.” Now their form of representation would today be the equivalent of the Trump cabinet saying – we want a tax break. This was not a people’s revolt. The point is Henry III, pushed his Barons too far and the King found that he could not govern without the powerful on his side.
Wind the history clock forward and let’s move to Paris. In the Conciergerie on Isle de la Cité, a few steps from Notre Dame, Marie Antoinette was imprisoned during the French Revolution. While she may not have uttered “Let them eat cake,” the lavish gold-plated out-of-touch lifestyle of the monarchy, cultural changes, rising taxes and bread shortages led to its downfall. A wander around Versailles is an instant reminder of the income disparity that ultimately led to the revolution and the extensive use of the guillotine on the French aristocracy.
If the Battle of Lewes teaches us that Kings need the powerful as allies, the French Revolution shows us that without the consent of ordinary people, Kings and Barons can be dethroned.
Of course, we don’t have to look that far back in U.S. history to be reminded of the power of the people. At the time of the revolution, decisions had to be made about the form of government the country wanted. As we know, there was considerable discussion around the title that George Washington would use and how he would be addressed.
The first President recognized that for a country freeing itself from the British Monarchy, proposed titles including “His Elective Majesty” or “His Highness the President,” would not cut it and adopted the simple title – President of the United States. With the founders having established a Republic – the first President did not want to be addressed as a King.
It’s hard to imagine the current occupant of the White House having the same concern.
History shows us there are limits to the power of Kings and Queens, and even a President acting like a King in this “New Guided Age.” When monarchs lose sight of them and fail to earn the support of both the elites and the people, they are eventually turfed out of power.
Bringing this back to communications – individuals and companies operate with the permission of their audiences. These include colleagues, clients, government and society. By not engaging them and breaking the compact between leaders and the people – that essentially everyone benefits – this permission is withdrawn.
Being a leader is not a right. It is a privilege conferred by the people.