What Vikings Can Teach Us About Leadership

The 32nd Jorvik Viking Festival took place this year in York, famed for their marauding ways you might wonder what the Vikings ever did for us. But, in their heyday the Vikings’ reach extended across northern Europe – and they even discovered North America 500 years before Columbus.

Leaders of Distinction: In his 1998 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “What Makes a Leader?” – one of HBR’s ten “must-read” articles of all time – Daniel Goleman writes that the three abilities that distinguish the best leaders from average are: self-awareness, self-management and empathy.

So what can the vikings teach us about being leaders of distinction? Tweet: So what can the vikings teach us about being leaders of distinction? @Angel_HR_UK #AngelView http://goo.gl/bYNOG5
Know Your Limits: On the whole vikings weren’t ones for limits. But, King Canute, the famed viking king of England, knew a thing or two about being self-aware. Tweet: But, King Canute, the famed viking king of England, knew a thing or two about being self-aware. @Angel_HR_UK #AngelView http://goo.gl/bYNOG5
In his legendary demonstration Canute famously demanded the tide to stop from his throne on the beach. Often misrepresented as a bad case of inflated ego, infact this pre-powerpoint presentation is meant to illustrate Canute’s kingly limitations – ie, he is only human.

Being self-aware doesn’t mean broadcasting your limitations on YouTube, though. It’s simply about having a clear idea of your strengths and weaknesses and behaving with humility.

TIP: Try keeping a journal or some sort of record, where you write down your thoughts for the day. Can’t read your own handwriting? Try an online journal keeping site, like Penzu.

Lead Yourself Effectively: The ability to self-manage would seem part and parcel of being a leader, but how many leaders are able to maintain self-control and sustain their values without compromise while at the same time being flexible?

The Jomsvikings were a semi-legendary order of viking mercenaries with a strict code of conduct. Each Jomsviking was bound to defend his fellows, not prohibited from speaking ill of them and expected to share spoils equally.

Probably most famously of all, they were forbidden to show fear or run away from an enemy – but, here’s where some flexibility comes in – unless they were vastly outnumbered, that is!

The Jomsvikings illustrate just how powerful a code of conduct or code of ethics can be.Tweet: The Jomsvikings illustrate just how powerful a code of conduct or code of ethics can be. @Angel_HR_UK #AngelView http://goo.gl/bYNOG5
Tip: Create your own ‘code of ethics’ or values READ MORE HERE – to act as a kind of compass to help you make good decisions in tough times.

Empathy: Now, lack of empathy is probably what gets some cut-throat operators to the top but is also pretty often their downfall too. The vikings were no different.

The notorious Freydís Eiríksdóttir, sister of Leif Erikson – supposedly the first European to set foot in America – is famed for facing annoyed natives alone, while 8 months’ pregnant, as her menfolk ran away.

But, then, following in the hot-headed footsteps of her grandfather, Thorvald Asvaldsson – who was banished from Norway for manslaughter – she decided she deserved a bigger cut of their new found land and did away with her rival explorers. Result: she was shunned.

Leaders with empathy improve their teams and businesses by taking employees’ feelings into consideration when making decisions and don’t simply tread them underfoot in the rush to attain their personal goal.

Tip: Improve your empathy skills by paying more attention to body language. This skill is a real asset for leaders: you’ll be better able to determine how someone truly feels, which gives you the opportunity to respond appropriately. For more tips on body language take a look at Amy Cuddy, Social Psychologist at TED talks.

Next Steps: How are your viking leadership skills looking?

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