You People Must Be Mad!

Leadership Lessons from Don Quixote

Don-Quixote-500x500-300x300Amazingly, a novel written in the 16th century is still valued and read by business leaders today. Cervantes’ Don Quixote tells the story of a seemingly deranged middle-aged retiree who became obsessed with tales of knighthood, fantasy and chivalry.

But what can we learn from this story of apparent madness? As leaders, Don Quixote reminds us that we should demonstrate imagination, commitment and (surprisingly) joy!

Quixote imagined that the characters he read about in books were real and therefore he had no trouble “finding” them in his neighborhood (which reinforced other people’s belief in his madness). We hail the late Steve Jobs for his visionary leadership but sometimes forget how difficult and odd he appeared when he began slashing the number of Apple products from a few hundred to a few dozen and envisioned “i-products” that did not yet exist. Imagined vision is not easy or even popular until it’s made real.

Quixote also persists through constant, even comic barriers to his vision – and never wavers. This level of dogged commitment should be reflected in any work that we feel passionately about – if we are not showing persistence, is the endeavor even worth doing?

Leaders also need to find the joy in work and the ability to laugh at trouble.  Despite being ridiculed, attacked and scorned, Quixote never gave up on his goals.  He found joy in the engagement and  in the action – the struggle was as important as the goal.

Read more about this classic book or watch Stanford University’s Don Quixote – Lessons for Leadership.