Hamlet is an indecisive leader, who lacks focus and the ability to delegate effectively. His inability to act showcases the numerous flaws in his character exposing him as a poor leader and an ineffective strategist. His main character flaw is his indecisiveness. Throughout the play he chooses to procrastinate instead of making firm decisions. This is first illustrated when he sees his father’s ghost in the opening Act. Following his conversation with the ghost, he confirms with his best friend Horatio that the ghost is his father’s spirit.
Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio, And much offence too. Touching this vision here, It is an honest ghost let me tell you: (Act 1, Scene 5, line 138)
Hamlet is confirming that the ghost is real and validating the information as credible. Based on this and the fact that the ghost instructed him to avenge him, Hamlet should have taken decisive action to eliminate his uncle and restore order to his country. A good leader follows his instincts and more importantly acts on credible information, Hamlet fails to do both (Theta 1995).
After continually making excuses for his inability to act throughout the first two scenes, Hamlet comes up with an elaborate plan to expose the king and to confirm his suspicions regarding his father’s murder. The prince uses a group of traveling actors to perform a play to act out the murder of his father. Hamlet invites his mother and Claudius to watch. As the play draws to an end, Claudius begins to act very suspiciously, rushing off after watching the murder scene:
Give me some light-away! (Act 3 Scene 2, lines 240) His actions once more point towards his obvious guilt.
Shortly afterwards on his way to his mothers quarters, Hamlet comes across Claudius in prayer. This is the first time that Hamlet has seen Claudius alone and he is given a perfect opportunity to finally dispose of the king. By this stage he is convinced of the king’s guilt, but once more fails to act:
And now I’ll do’t and so he goes to heaven, And so am I revenged. That would be scanned. A villain kills my father, and for that I his sole son do the same villain send To heaven (Act 3, Scene 3, lines 74-78)
Hamlet is trying to justify his inability to act based on his religious concerns that if he kills Claudius in prayer, Claudius will go to heaven. Hamlet uses his religious beliefs as a cover for the fact that he cannot follow through with his planned intentions, once more justifying his lack of action.
His inability to stick to his convictions underlines his indecisiveness, exposing him as a poor leader and strategist and one who would never been able to rule Denmark effectively. In the business world if the boss was aware of an employee who had broken the company rules, he would be fired.
By comparing Hamlet to the great business leader Jack Welsh, former CEO of GE (General Electric), it quickly becomes apparent that Hamlet lacks almost all the qualities of a good leader.
When Jack Welsh took over the CEO position of GE he was forced to layoff of thousands of workers. It was a difficult decision to make, but one which needed to be made in order for the company to succeed. Welsh needed to get rid of the old to make way for the new (BusinessWeek 1998). Hamlet should have looked at the murder of Claudius as a difficult, but necessary decision which was required for the future success of Denmark.
If you wish to succeed as a leader in the business world, you must be able to make tough decisions for the benefit of the company as a whole (BusinessWeek 1998). If you are the CEO of the company and there is a Claudius type figure in your business, it would be best for both you and the business to get rid of him.
Welsh did not become one of the greatest business leaders of our time by avoiding confrontation and making tough decisions. He has maintained order by doing what was best for the company (BusinessWeek 1998). Hamlet should have killed Claudius not only to avenge his father, but to restore normality to Denmark.
Hamlet’s second major character flaw is his inability to delegate. Hamlet is the prince of Denmark; he has access to substantial man power yet fails to make use of it and tries to do everything himself.
Effective delegation is vital for any good leader; it helps with organising, planning, selection and effective decision making. By delegating correctly leaders can gain access to extra resources to help them in their future plans (Theta 1995). Hamlet makes a cardinal error by doing the complete opposite; closing himself off from the outside world and cutting him off from any potential resources.
At the start of the play, Hamlet is given various opportunities to mobilise people behind his cause. Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend sees the ghost along with the two castle guards, Marcellus and Bernado. All three of them would all have been likely to offer their services to Hamlet. They were the first to see the ghost and were the ones to tell Hamlet about it:
Two nights together had these gentlemen, Marcellus and Bernado, on their watch In the dead waste and middle of the night, Been thus encountered. A figure like your father. (Act 1, Scene 2, lines 196-199) Hamlet is constantly reminded of the resources available to him; throughout the course of the play when Horatio goes out of his way to help his friend: The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever (Act1 Scene 2 line 162).
Horatio is telling Hamlet that he is there for him and will do anything he asks. If Hamlet was an intelligent leader he would have accepted the offer and used Horatio to kill Claudius, or at least assist him in carrying out his plans. By doing neither, he makes the task of getting rid of Claudius far more difficult. Good leader’s delegate they don’t try and do everything for themselves (Theta 1995).
Hamlet never seems to learn from his mistakes resulting in his eventual death at the end of the play. Horatio is the epitome of loyalty and upon witnessing Hamlet’s death; he even speaks about his desire to end his own life, referring to the hounrable Roman custom of a soldier committing suicide when an officer is killed:
I am more antique than a Dane.Here’s yet some liquor left.(Act 1, Scene 2, lines 313-314)
This kind of loyalty is invaluable, yet Hamlet chooses not to make use of it. A good leader would have brought Horatio on board and used his skills for the greater good of the country/company.
According to Machiavelli the ability to make use of delegation/outsourcing is vital to any good prince/leader (Philosophy pages 2001). During his twenty years at GE, Welsh effectively dealt with over 15 000 managers and executives, using their unique skills to further develop the organisation (BusinessWeek 1998). No modern day business giant is run by one person, Gates, Jobs and Branson have all made effective use of delegation to get where they are today.
Jack Welsh would be the first to admit that he didn’t become a great leader and CEO of a $300 million dollar plus company by himself. He made use of the talents of other leaders like Gary Wendt, who at the time was head of GE Capital Corporation, which contributes nearly 40% of the company’s earnings. GE is a worldwide company scattered in over 100 countries worldwide. An intelligent leader and strategist would realise from a logistical standpoint, that it would be impossible to run all the sectors of a country/company by oneself (BusinessWeek 1998).
As a future king of Denmark, Hamlet should have made use of other resources such as the army or at least the help of his close friends. Hamlet does not have the ability to lead people or stratergise effectively. If he had been employed to take over as the CEO of GE within a year they would probably have filed for bankruptcy.
Hamlets third major point of weakness is his inability to focus. He continually flatters to deceive but invariably disappoints. He begins the play by pledging his allegiance to avenging his father’s death:
Yea, from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saw of books, all forms, all pressures past That youth and observation copied there, And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmixed with baser matter. Yes by heaven (Act 1, Scene 5, lines 98-104)
In this quote, Hamlet expresses his loyalty to the cause of avenging his father’s death, by promising to shut everything else out of his mind. This impressive statement makes him appear a strong leader, as he is seemingly focused on one desired outcome. This positive notion of Hamlet is however quickly dismissed at it soon becomes apparent that he lacks any real ability to focus.
Throughout the course of the play, Hamlet continually looks for excuses todelay taking action against Claudius. He flirts with the idea of insanity throughout, telling his friends that it is all part of his elaborate plan. Any good leader would just act on credible information, no questions asked, Hamlet fails to do so.
Hamlet once more exposes his weakness in Act four when he is sent on a “diplomatic” mission by Claudius: Hamlet, this deed, for thine especial safety, Which we do tender, as we dearly grieve For that which thou hast done, must send thee henceWith fiery quickness. Therefore prepare thyself. The bark is ready, and the wind at help, Th’assocaites tend, and every thing is bent (Act 4, Scene 3, lines 37-44)
If Hamlet had real focus, he would have realised that this was just further delaying his intended plan. He should have seen that it was a bit strange that the man who was sending him on the journey was the same man who killed his father. Hamlet’s train of thought is far too easily shifted, he can’t remain focused on the job at hand and as result fails to carry out his plan.
Hamlet adds insult to injury in the last scene, when he agrees to participate in a sword match organised by Claudius. Throughout the play, he does various things to please Claudius even though he is trying to kill him. Why entertain the man who murdered your father and has also tried to kill you? There is no good reason for Hamlet to take part in the match, as it just further delays him from his actual point of focus, killing Claudius.
In the business environment the only course of action for a boss towards a person trying to get rid of him/her is to fire, or get fired. The business/political world is about the survival of the fittest, a good leader would rather eat than be eaten by the competition.
The ability to remain focused is vital to success, if you want to stratergise for future plans, you need to remain focused by having a goal and doing all in your power to achieve it. The more you become sidetracked the further you move from your intended objective.
Unlike Hamlet, Jack Welsh always remained focused and decisive while working for GE. There was no in-between for him, he made decisions and stuck to them, it was never a question of maybe, just yes or no (BusinessWeek 1998). This focus ensured that he managed to achieve virtually all his long and short-term goals.
Within the play, Hamlet is forced to deal with a leader who posses many of Welsh’s leadership qualities. By looking at the works of the famous Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, it becomes clear why Claudius was a far better/stronger leader than Hamlet despite his immoral actions.
From the start of the play, Claudius proves himself a good leader showcasing certain key Machiavellian qualities, which make him a more effective leader than Hamlet. He does what is required to be successful; he doesn’t care about what people think, for him it is more important to be feared than loved. Ideally he would like to be both, but if he had to choose he would be feared (Philosophy pages 2001).
Claudius’s other strong point which Machiavelli places great importance on is his ability to delegate and gather the support of those around him (Philosophy pages 2001). Hamlet never does this and as result Claudius always has an advantage over him.
Claudius is also able to successfully separate private morality from public success, something which Hamlet struggles to come to terms with. As Machiavelli says, there is no guarantee people will follow you because you are virtuous (Philosophy pages 2001).
In order to succeed in as a king of a powerful country, one must be able to do what is required. Hamlet is an academic scholar who has been brought up to believe in what is right according to religious morals, he is somewhat removed from the real world and always expects people to act morally.
Claudius controls his kingdom in a very Machiavellian way, showcasing why he was a successful leader and why Hamlet was not.
Hamlet is more of a George Bush type of leader, although not focusing his attention on avenging his father’s death, Bush continually appears indecisive on important issues, like Iraq and Iran, despite making promises he often procrastinates avoiding key issues (Thompson 2004).
He also shares a lack of focus with Hamlet, by continually changing the spotlight from his war on terror to Saddam back to some other Arab leader. It is hard to know what he is really trying to achieve, as is the case with Hamlet (Thompson 2004).
Bush however does make better use of delegation than Hamlet, but does not delegate effectively, putting personal friends in high ranking positions as opposed to the best person for the job (Thompson 2004). According to BusinessWeek (1998) Jack Welsh did what was best for the company and not himself and as result most people loved him.
Hamlet is an indecisive leader, who lacks focus and the ability to delegate effectively. He posses hardly any of the qualities which the great Jack Welsh has and falls more inline with a dithering George Bush type leader. He does not posses the cut-throat leadership abilities of a Machiavellian leader, which is why Claudius remains in control right until the end. Hamlet is the epitome of how not to lead and stratergise; he exposes numerous leadership flaws throughout the play. His inability to adapt to Claudius’s style of leadership means that despite his best attempts he is doomed from the start, making him one of the great tragic Shakespearean characters.
BusinessWeek 1998, How Jack Welsh runs GE’ [Online] Accessed 1 May 2006, Available at http://www.businessweek.com/1998/23/b.3581001.htm
Philosophy pages 2001, Machiavelli: Principality and Republic’ [Online] Accessed 30 April 2006, Available at http://www.philosphypages.com/members/journals/journal_spr0109.asp
Shakespeare, W. 1992, Hamlet, 11th edition, Maskew Miller Longman, Cape Town.
Theta, P. 1995, The Importance of Delegation’ [Online] Accessed 29 April 2006, Available at http://websrv.ewu.edu/groups/studentlife/Delegation.pdf
Thompson, D. 2004, Business Erratic Behavior Worries White House’, [Online] Accessed 20 April 2006, Available at http://www.capitalblue.com/artman/publish/article_4636.shtml