Camelot Wisdom: 10 Leadership Lessons from King Arthur’s Court

I am sharing 10 bits of “Camelot Wisdom” to commemorate the publication anniversary of Camelot, Inc.: Leadership and Management Insights from King Arthur and the Round Table. Not all of the actions and words from Camelot were examples we should follow, of course; there were many instances of what not to say or do. But this collection of 10 quotes from the legends (of over 150 in the book) holds strong relevance for us today. As Winston Churchill said, “The further backward you look, the further forward you can see.”

“He favours the young knights, and tries to help them win the spurs.”1 Help others realize their potential. Coaching, teaching and mentoring must not be an optional activity for leaders.

“Learn why the world wags and what wags it.”2 Having empathy — understanding and feeling what others feel — delivers competitive advantage. People want to advocate, work or vote for those who take an interest in them, and feel their pains and successes.

“But when men be hot in the deeds of arms oft they will hurt their friends as well as their foes.”3 Without maintaining calm and perspective in times of crisis, a lack of clear, considered thinking leads to poor decision-making and unintended consequences.

“I didn’t want to be conscious of it. I hoped that if only I was not quite conscious of everything, it would come straight in the end.”4 We must confront the hard, awkward issues. Denying reality may sometimes be required to maintain sanity but move past the anticipation and anxiety to address problems and opportunities.

“The destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.”5 It can’t always be all-or-nothing; we should celebrate incremental advances. Communicate and engage with others to find common ground and compromise.

“I don’t think things ought to be done because you are able to do them. I think they should be done because you ought to do them.”6 There is importance in declaring your Mission, Vision, and Values; define and articulate objectives, direction, and principles. We can do well AND do good.

“Merlin made the Round Table in tokening of the world…”7 Round was more than a shape; the Table became a brand. It was a symbol of excellence. It enhanced communication and collaboration, and hosted a diversity of old and new — those with institutional knowledge and fresh ideas. Value was placed on the “roundedness” of people and teams.

“…many speak behind a man more than they will say to his face.”8 Behavior matters. Gossip leads to rumors, which lead to a breakdown in trust and organizational culture. Ensure the flow of good, timely information. Set an example and have the character and ethics to correct others.

“…you couldn’t get unless you gave. And you had to give without wanting to get.”9 One must not think of helping, contributing or doing good as a zero-sum game. We need a mindset, a culture of helping others to succeed — it strengthens everyone.

“Only fools want to be great.”10 Greatness is not an objective; it’s an outcome of planning, doing, giving and achieving. Leaders know the audiences/stakeholders they serve are the judges. They further those agendas above their own, and must have the vision to unify purpose and people.

There’s much more in the book, of course, but it’s clear that the trials and tribulations of Arthur and his court have much to teach the people, corporations, institutions and governments of today.

1. T.H. White, The Once and Future King, (1939–1958); Ace Edition (1987), p. 554.

2. Ibid., p. 183.

3. Ibid., p. 416

4. Ibid., 579.

5. Ibid., p. 231.

6. Ibid., p. 246.

7. T. Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur, (1469); Modern Library Edition (1999), p. 691.

8. White, The Once and Future King, p. 347

9. Ibid., p. 464.

10. Ibid., p. 180.