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Sonnet 94 & Leadership

Leaders are defined by their deeds, not their words. Everyone is capable of coming up with a vision, a set of goals, or a decent idea, but not everyone is up to getting things done.

Shakespeare said as much in sonnet 94.

In the first eight lines of the sonnet Shakespeare says that a person who has the power to move others, but resists temptations will “inherit heaven’s graces.” These people are the “lords and owners of their faces.”

Those that don’t wield their power to hurt or to brag can expect to benefit.

The remaining lines of the sonnet describe a summer flower. If the flower were to meet a “base infection”, Shakespeare states, it would smell worse than a weed. The moral of the sonnet: deeds shape a person’s character, regardless of their position.

Leaders know that their actions define who they are, but it’s an easily forgotten lesson in the day-to-day rush.

Literary critic Harold Bloom argues that in order to truly know a poem, one should memorize it. Leaders should commit the following sonnet to memory so they can not only internalize it’s important argument, but also feel it.

They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.



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