The Myth of Leadership (there can be only one)

Posted in: Simon Inger

I recently challenged my team mates to throw me a random topic that I would be obliged to improvise a blog around, and the only response was “the myth of leadership.”  My first thought was: “which one?” but my mind quickly drifted to the mythology of leadership and the workshops I’ve heard about training leaders through the lens of King Lear, or Henry V, or even Beowulf. It struck me that this all presumes a particular cultural heritage that we may not all share.  So in a spirit of festive silliness, here are my thoughts on some myths of leadership through a different cultural lens, the 1980 cult film classic “Flash Gordon.”  

If you’ve haven’t trod this cultural path (and I know many won’t have), it’s a vividly-coloured space opera with many nods to its comic book origins (before that was a thing) and its 1950s monochrome TV precursor. The budget seems to have been mostly spent on coloured smoke and well-known acting talent like Max von Sydow, Timothy Dalton (The Fifth Bond) and that bloke off Blue Peter. Gloriously silly, and sound-tracked by Queen, it concerns Ming the Merciless of Planet Mongo, who has decided that Earth will be his next plaything before its destruction. The Earth, and indeed the Universe, is saved by our titular hero, the quarterback of the New York Jets. (Current NFL fans can have a chortle at this point). 

So, good workshop participants, who in all of this is showing the great leadership? Is it Flash, who puts it all on the line to save others and in doing so unites previously competing factions in common cause?  Is it Prince Barin (“I’ve changed”), who lets his manly ego get distracted by the threat of Flash until he too realises he must be part of the solution? Or Prince Voltan of the Hawkmen, putting his people first (commendable) but realising the bigger picture needs some sacrifice (“thank you for giving an old bird a second chance.”)  Or even treacherous Princess Ora (“Does anyone trust her twice?”) or Dr Zarkov, the discredited NASA scientist who stuck to his guns, believed in his data and was proved right? I’ll put in a bid for Freddie Mercury, who is heard but not seen, and at this time was holding stadium-sized audiences in his palm by the stagecraft he had pretty much had to invent for south American tours in the days before giant screens. (Taylor Swift be thankful.) 

The biggest leadership myth of all, of course, is that there is one thing, an innate property, a kind of magic, that you are born with or can learn, and that makes you a leader.  The messy reality of leadership is that you take what you’ve got, make sense of how you can act in the world you’re facing, and do your best.  

And we all tread our own cultural path. You’ve had a glimpse into mine, but I’m not assuming anyone reading this will get all the references, as I wouldn’t get yours. But I’d like to think I’d be curious to delve further, to make sense of whatever aliens are lurking beneath those technicolour cloud tops. 

Wishing you all the best for the winter festival season and a very happy new year. Stay curious. 

Simon Inger

Organisational Development Consultant, Workforce Development Team, Department of Human Resources

The trailer: Flash Gordon | Official Trailer [4K] - YouTube



Posted in: Simon Inger


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  • Hi Simon,

    I do like your explanation of leadership from Flash Gordon. I have good memories of a dark December afternoon as a child watching that film. Mind you, my leadership in popular culture would more likely be based on the Star Trek franchises.

    Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year when it comes.