What ‘Hamilton’ teaches us about leadership

What the musical smash hit ‘Hamilton’ teaches us about leadership of self
Written by By Phil Wall

Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, was without doubt the theatrical sensation of 2017. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton, the show has become a runaway box-office hit in the UK and the US.

Hamilton is one of America’s most influential and – prior to this production, least recognised Founding Fathers. He wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers – still the most authoritative interpretation of the US constitution. In Washington’s first cabinet, he ran the US Treasury and founded America’s first National Bank. A trained lawyer, later in life, he helped to end the legality of the slave trade. But how did such an unlikely hero emerge to scale such historical heights? Or, in the words of the libretto, How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” Hamilton endeavours to wrap up the mystery.

From her first entry, Hamilton’s would-be partner and will be long-suffering wife looks to take centre-stage. While her gender inhibits her own ambitions, her partnership with Hamilton locates her right at the centre of a historic social circle, offering her a host of opportunities, which she embraces with open arms. That is, until she discovers the humiliating details of her husband’s infidelity. Beating a tragic retreat, Elizabeth, in her own words, “erases herself from the narrative”, swapping politics and power for seclusion and solitude.

But her story doesn’t end here. In the grand finale, she re-imagines the future, putting herself back into her own story. Elizabeth Hamilton would become a renowned social reformer and philanthropist, speaking out against slavery and establishing New York’s first private orphanage. As the curtain falls, Elizabeth Hamilton is warming up for fifty years of campaigning, fundraising and social activism.

The story of Elizabeth Hamilton won’t let me go – and not only because my daughter can’t stop singing it! In times of personal disappointment, rejection or failure, many of us long to withdraw and hide. Even if we love the limelight, we all experience times when we would rather “erase ourselves from the narrative.” For some, failure leads to an identity crisis or a crash of self-confidence. For others, betrayal by loved ones, colleagues or even the organisations we serve, paves the way for intense anger, suffocating bitterness and the occasional irrational outburst. Some find themselves destroyed by fear and anxiety; others plough on through gritted teeth.

But, inspired by the example of Elizabeth Hamilton, here are 4 thought-shifts towards a comeback.


1 – You are not a victim

Are you really a victim?

In my charitable work for We See Hope, I spend a good part of my year supporting children and families in Africa whose life choices have been erased by HIV and Aids, war, famine and other atrocities besides. These people have little control of their narrative – they have every reason to see themselves as victims (though often they don’t).

I have occasionally witnessed a genuine victim in corporate life. But the great majority wield significant influence, are well remunerated, enjoy fantastic lifestyles and could choose to do something else in a flash.

If we see ourselves as victims, we cheat ourselves into believing that we are not the authors of our own story – but we are. We have choices. Believing it is the critical first step to a more positive future.

2 – Our nightmares rarely come true

Insecurity and anxiety can play foul tricks on our imagination, turning drama into crisis, and crisis into a catastrophe, and, as we catastrophise, we see the future, and our instinct is to run.

In my experience, the best way to fight off an impending catastrophe is to phone a friend, or even better, buy them a coffee. In most cases, the impending catastrophe doesn’t survive the careful examination of our trusted friend or mentor. Under the spotlight of the facts, our fears dissipate.

In the warmth of their friendship, we regain perspective. (And, if the anxiety is extreme, don’t hesitate to seek clinical support.)

3 – Revenge is not a solution

Sometimes we’re hurt by others. It happens. People let us down or put us down. It hurts. At times an organisation will do this, intentionally or unintentionally.

Getting your own back works, at best, for a moment. Becoming someone you don’t want to be, just to get your own back, is too high a price to pay for the briefest moment of relief. Far from making things better, psychologists tell us that revenge is one of the first steps on the journey to psychosis. No one should end up here.

Believe me when I say that it’s better to forgive. When we’ve been wronged, forgiveness provides the only proven way to wrest control of the narrative, set ourselves free from the hurt we feel and move on to bigger and better things.

4 – Back yourself or no one else will

Having originally believed that marriage was her one route to influence, only to be publicly humiliated by her husband’s infidelities, Elizabeth Hamilton became a major figure in her own right. If you back yourself, people will agree with you. If you don’t back yourself, people will also agree with you!

Take time to pause and reflect on the most successful moments in your story – relive them, explore them, embody them. Take confidence from the skills and strengths you know you have and think how to use them in your current narrative.

Remember who you are and what you stand for. You have capability and skills. You have ethics and values that can set you apart. Have the courage to be your unique self. Some of the things you’re committed to are of such importance that you must press on.

Make this the year that you take back control of your story – and put yourself back in the narrative.


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