So they may practice portraying this type of character, the Royal Shakespeare Company trains its actors to reduce their physical tension. Audiences subconsciously read tension around a performer’s shoulders and neck in the same way that children deftly read their parents’ emotions. When the actor is tense, the audience also tenses up and stops listening, or listens with distrust. “One of the great releases,” said Bomber, “is belly breathing to activate the lower abdominals. Put your thumb on your belly button and flare the rest of the fingers downward. Say ‘Fffff’ until you’ve released all the breath.”
Next, Bomber asked me to open my mouth to a comfortable width and hold up the number of fingers that I thought would fit into that space. I held up two fingers. But when I tried to actually put them in my mouth, they didn’t fully fit at all. “We believe our mouth is wider open than it is,” said Bomber. “So people think we are holding something back. If we can learn to release our jaws a bit more, that is very effective.”
As the pressures on our world increase, people will not want overconfident leaders; we’ve seen the crises that an excess of certainty can produce. We will want leaders who know the price of power; who are willing to exercise power nonetheless; and who recognize the value of doubt, harmony, and beauty. When we enter leadership positions ourselves, we may not see at first the extent to which those qualities reside within us; we may need to practice and polish them in order to instill them. That, I believe, is what the characters of Henry V, Richard II, and Cleopatra have to offer: a way to talk, and thus to think, of leadership. Perhaps every CEO candidate should be asked to memorize these three roles, and recite the appropriate lines as part of the interview. For those who would be leaders, let the inner sovereigns remake us.
Reprint No. 07402
Harriet Rubin ([email protected]) was the founding editor of Doubleday Currency. She is the author of The Mona Lisa Stratagem: The Art of Women, Age, and Power (Grand Central Books, 2007) and The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women (Currency, 1997). Her article “CEO Libraries Reveal Keys to Success,” mentioned on page 124 of this issue, appeared in the New York Times, July 21, 2007.