The Princess Bride is a fantasy film, and like all good fairy tales it is full of moral lessons and life guidance. Many of these are still relevant, and easily accessible for those that are not familiar with the story.
It was written by Academy Award winning master storyteller William Goldman in 1973, and later made in to a beloved film by Rob Reiner in 1987.
It is full of powerful throw away lines.
“Life is pain, your highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something”
“People in masks cannot be trusted”
Others can be deeper in their meaning, and about the importance of effective communication.
“That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish”, what he meant was, “I love you””
Perhaps the most referenced character is Inigo Montoya who has practiced sword play all his life in preparation for the moment he finally faces the man who killed his father.
It is through Inigo that we can learn three important leadership lessons.
1. Give Your Life Meaning
One of the most important books on our purpose is the 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. He was an inmate of several concentration camps during the Second World War, and realized that we could withstand the harshest of conditions if our life has meaning.
This meaning can impact how we interact with our environment and others, how we choose to respond to any given situation, and in some way adding value to the world through creativity and self expression.
Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.
Author and consultant Simon Sinek has written and spoken about the importance and impact of our why.
This can have a dramatic impact on those around us, our employees, and our customers or clients. The why gives our quest meaning, it gives it a story, and it engages those that hear it.
Inigo’s why is revenge. Not the greatest of motivations, but this is a fairy tale after all.
2. Learn From Past Mistakes By Developing Skills For Tomorrow
When his father was slaughtered Inigo challenged the killer to a duel. He was eleven years old, and lost. He dedicated his life to the study of sword play so the next time they meet he would be victorious. He did not allow that failure to create a feeling of learned helplessness, but as a motivator to learn the skills he will require in the future to fulfill his dream.
As leadership author Kevin Kruse often says, “dig the well before you are thirsty”
The revenge could have eaten him up, but just as his father was passionate about sword making, Inigo seems to have uncovered a passion and respect for swordplay. His “Why” may have started as a negative motivator, but it evolved in to a creative passion for the art. He seeks a challenge, a raising of the difficulty level because he is an eternal learner.
He even duels the Dread Pirate Roberts with his left hand (he is right handed) because he knows the importance of learning through adversity.
3. The Importance Of Vulnerability.
The third and most important lesson is about making a human connection. When Inigo first meets The Dread Pirate Roberts the first thing of substance that he shares is his origin story. These are two men that are about to fight to the death, a time where bravado and intimidation would perhaps seem more fitting. Inigo takes a different approach and shares his most painful memory.
He speaks of how a six finger man hired his father to make a sword for him. He agreed, and spent a year creating it, but the six fingered man only offered one tenth of the promised price. When his father refused, he was slashed through the heart.
Ingo was eleven years old, and challenged the murderer to a duel. He lost, but was left alive, with a scar on his face.
Inigo and the Dread Pirate Roberts fight, but not to the death, and later on they team up together.
There is mutual admiration here of course. But I suspect the warmth and bond the men have is because of that moment.
The sharing of a painful memory, a vulnerability.
It takes courage to do this, as well as compassion and curiosity.
But it is a path to great leadership that few will take.