Earnest young man to bright young lady: “Do you like Kipling?”
Bright young lady: “I don’t know, I’ve never Kippled, you naughty man!”
It’s rather hard on such a moral author as Rudyard Kipling to make cheeky jokes about him but after being extremely popular with books including The Jungle Book and poems like The Road to Mandalay his fame declined after his death.
He was an archetypal late Victorian poet and author, very moral and also with a great mutuality of what were then referred to as “the working classes”.
One of his classic poems and probably one of the most quoted is “If”, an example of Victorian stoicism and one that bears some examination by leaders today.
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tried by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good or talk too wise:
If you can dream and not make dreams your master;
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve e spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stop and build ’em up with worn out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never break a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they have gone
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will that says to them “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue;
Or walk with Kings nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but not too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run
Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it,
And what is more – you’ll be a Man my son!”.
Given the old fashioned gender specific language of the poem and the rather patronising tone, there are so many lessons that we can learn from the work.
It exhorts us to stand back from problems and take action after due consideration; it encourages us to make allowances for people who perhaps don’t have the same attitude as we do and it encourages us to take risks without worrying about losing.
It says that we should be able to talk to anyone at any level and especially not to lose the common touch, and crucially to make every second of every day meaningful in some way.
Add to that the exhortation to treat those imposters, Triumph and Disaster the same and we have at least a start to developing a set of values if we haven’t already started.
If that doesn’t describe the virtues of great leadership, I don’t know what does. Read, mark and inwardly digest. You won’t be sorry.
On a slightly cynical note I recall a great man once saying in a meeting:
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, then you haven’t heard the news yet!”.
Renewed apologies to a great Nobel Laureate, Rudyard Kipling.
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