Ozymandias: The Fate of the Prideful Leader

Throughout history, mankind has aspired to be great. Whether as noble as being a great friend or as aspiring as being a great leader, humans have made it their mission to reach grandiose heights. However, sometimes these goals become delusions of grandeur or an exaggerated belief of self-worth, power, knowledge, identity, or even a view of divinity. This overly prideful characteristic is most notably epitomized in a sonnet by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The following sonnet is named after the alternate name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. In the poem, this ostentatious leader is subdued by the demarcation of his own achievements.

Ozymandias

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

The two lines that completely describe Ozymandias’ view toward his accomplishments are followed by the actualization of their longevity: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” However, according to the traveler in the story, “nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.” His audacious view of himself as a leader and of his works succumbed to the same fate most of our accomplishments will have.

As leaders, we have the opportunity to bestow a lasting impression on those around us. But, we must first learn from the fate of Ozymandias. By standing alone on our laurels, we miss the sole purpose of the accomplishments in the first place: to make a difference in the world around us. It is easy to let pride seep in when we create a game-changer, explore unmapped areas, or lead technology into the future, but understand first, who was it that built the works of Ozymandias? Was it him or his people? Organizations are only as good as the sum of their parts. To be a truly great leader who will leave a lasting impression, you must impart humility, integrity, and appreciation to your team mates. If not, your “works” may be a fragmented remnant as “the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

What other truths did you take away from Shelley’s sonnet? How have you focused on the future legacy of your leadership? Let us know in the comments section below!

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