photo: Lincolnian (Brian)
No master of the word, living or dead, sheds light on human behavior more eloquently than the Bard, William Shakespeare. With an unquestionable ability to pinpoint ambition, revenge, lust, desire, and need, the Bard creates figurative blueprints for how to manage the ladder rungs to success, leadership and passion in your career.
Being able to use a sharp-tongued wit or the utterly demanding presence of silence as Shakespeare does in his writing can and will place you in the position you demand and desire. It is a matter of timing and knowing when and how to pick your poison. And much like the characters in Shakespeare’s plays, success comes in varying forms and we can draw a number of business lessons from his writings.
In As You Like It, a rather melancholy Jacques lamented the following: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; And one man in his time plays many parts.” He gives advice with these words that the reader should take to heart. Playing these many parts (including that of silent yet active listener) will, at times, gain you the most traction as you make your vertical move.
With Jacques’ musings in mind, another of Shakespeare’s characters, Polonius, from Hamlet, gives his son Laertes some sound guidance as Laertes traveled off to school. This counsel establishes a baseline for young professionals and executives finding their way in the new, volatile and unpredictable corporate world.
What follows are five valuable business lessons from Shakespeare, embedded in a father’s pearls of wisdom delivered to his son in one of Shakespeare’s timeless masterpieces.
1- “Give thy thoughts no tongue”
Basic as it may be as far as business lessons go, keep in mind the idea of thinking before you speak; it looms large when you are just starting to feel your way through your career. You must pick your battles wisely and with caution. Know your audience, when you have one, and cater to their needs, not your own. Remember, early on in your tenure at least, to check your ambition at the door unless ambition is paramount in the job’s requirements or expectations.
2- “But do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade.”
Stay away from misguided individuals in the workplace who thrive on negative gossip. Attempt also to steer clear of office politics and maintain constant focus on your objectives (once you actually know what those objectives will be). Do your job, but also be flexible when good opportunities present themselves. In the words of another language master, hip-hop mogul and prep-revolutionist Pharrell Williams, think “boxlessly.”
3- “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice”
Regardless of the person, be it the CEO or head custodian, practice active listening. Actually listen to the words and understand those words before you retort. Hard though it may be, try not to form your responses until you have let the speaker speak. That way you will continue to follow the speaker’s intended message. Use what you hear by disseminating what is useful and what can be tossed aside as unimportant (at least right now). Make intelligent decisions about with whom you plan to share ideas and information; moreover, be careful about the information you share.
4- “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”
Depending on your role and responsibilities, be careful of the information you give to a manager, supervisor or CEO, especially if you care about credit. It may be wise to put your head down and work without ruffling too many feathers, and when you do dole out jewels and nuggets of wisdom, do not give away the farm. It is also crucial to remember that your personal life is personal. Be protective and vigilant. Stay away from cliques and group alignments.
5- “This above all: to thine own self be true”
This particular comment by Polonius sums up the totality of his fatherly advice, as well as a major component of realizing and maintaining power for a satisfying and lengthy career. Be true to yourself and your work, and if you believe in your hard work, fight for it intelligently with deference and without arrogance. Be clear about your role, responsibilities and objectives, and stick to them until your time comes. If your time does not come in your current job or career, be patient — it will. And most importantly, contrary to Shakespeare’s true genius, do not deceive or lie. It will only hurt you later.