9 Virtues Blog

Leadership Lessons from Orwell

by Rob Jenkins


Anyone who thinks that being a leader means you get to tell everybody else what to do either hasn’t read George Orwell’s essay, “Shooting an Elephant,” or else completely missed the point.

Orwell (nee Eric Blair) wrote the essay about an incident that took place when he was a young soldier serving as a kind of constable in a small village in British-occupied Burma. A tame elephant had gone “rogue,” destroying a great deal of property and killing a couple of people. As the primary local authority figure, it was his job to hunt down the elephant and, if necessary, put it down before it could cause further damage.

By the time he caught up to the elephant, however, with most of the villagers at his heels, its fit had passed and it was peacefully eating grass beside the road. “As soon as I saw the elephant,” he writes, “I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant — it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery — and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided.

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