Lessons on Leadership by Terror

Lessons on Leadership by Terror

Finding Shaka Zulu in the Attic

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

Lessons on Leadership by Terror attempts to discover what happens to people when they acquire power, and whether the abuse of power is inevitable. Manfred Kets de Vries examines the life of the nineteenth-century Zulu king Shaka Zulu in order to help us understand the psychology of power and terror

Chapter 4: The Inner Theatre of the King: Acting Out Personal Concerns on a Public Stage

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

Subjects: business and management, business leadership, politics and public policy, leadership


The possession of unlimited power will make a despot of almost any man. There is a possible Nero in the gentlest human creature that walks. (Thomas Bailey, Leaves from a Notebook) Nature has left this tincture in the blood, That all men would be tyrants if they could. (Daniel Defoe, The Kentish Petition) How shall I be able to rule over others, that have not full power and command of myself? (François Rabelais, Gargantua) Every man who takes office in Washington either grows or swells, and when I give a man office I watch him carefully to see whether he is growing or swelling. (Woodrow Wilson, speech, 15 May 1916) I began to notice that the obligations of citizens, admonitions, restrictions, decrees, and all the other forms of pressure put on us were coming to resemble the man himself more and more closely, displaying an unmistakable relation to certain traits of his character and details of his past, so that on the basis of those admonitions and decrees one could reconstruct his personality like an octopus by its tentacles. (Vladimir Nabokov, Tyrants Destroyed) What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets) When it comes to Shaka Zulu, entering the inner theatre of the king is (and must remain) a highly speculative exercise, given the paucity of verifiable information available (McDougall, 1985, 1989). The divergence of the oral...

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