Lessons from the King

Due to hackneyed bravado and overdone patriotism, war movies are usually poor choices to illustrate leadership lessons. However, The King’s Choice (Norwegian: Kongens nei, meaning “The King’s No”) a 2016 biographical war film written by Harald Rosenøw-Eeg and Jan Trygve Røyneland, and directed by Erik Poppe is well worth watching by those interested in improving their leadership abilities.

Accurately portrayed in the movie, Norwegian King Haakon VII demonstrated three prominent traits of highly successful leaders – the ability to lead without formal power, hands-on mentoring the next generation of leaders and making courageous decisions, even in the face of adverse personal risk.

Uniquely implemented, Norwegian royalty is only a 20th Century institution. In 1905, Norway separated from Sweden and elected by popular vote Christian Frederik Carl Georg Valdemar, a Danish prince as the first King of Norway. One of the few elected Kings, King Haakon VII, served as titular head of a constitutional, democratic government without any real power. However, during early April 1940 Nazi invasion, he masterfully demonstrated how to use moral authority and how to lead without formal power. While the Norwegian Parliament waivered, the King spoke his personal beliefs which galvanized lawmakers’ support of his views, and the members rallied around his steadfastness.

Secondly, throughout the movie, the King kept his son and heir close to his side and patiently shared his thinking and decision criteria. When his son objected to a decision and counseled for a change in direction, the King laid out his rationale and why it was in the best interest of Norway.  Further, the King gave direct and sometimes heated feedback and provided counsel on improving his son’s decision making. This one-on-one mentorship made the son a better leader. The son assumed the crown after his father’s death and served as a highly influential and widely popular monarch until his passing.

Lastly, in the face of overwhelming Nazi forces, King Haakon VII made a highly courageous decision. Most importantly, he didn’t just put others at risk but made a personal life-impacting decision which placed himself and his family in imminent peril. In the end, he decided that long-term principles would endure over the current military threat and that future generations of Norwegians would greatly benefit by him not giving in and not legitimizing the Nazi puppet regime. With this stouthearted decision, he came down on the right side of history and Norwegians revere his brave stand against the Nazi’s and fascism.

I highly recommend that all students of leadership watch this movie and think about the King’s leadership style and actions. He exhibits three essential traits of outstanding leaders, leading without positional power, mentoring future leaders and making genuinely courageous decisions. As depicted in a high-quality film, King Haakon VII does all three extraordinarily well.


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