At the head of the table was an old man. His napkin was tied around his neck like a child's This was the marquis's father-in-law, the old duc de Laverdi re said to have been Marie-Antoinette's lover he led a wild, dissipated life, filled with duels, wagers and abductions; he had been the terror of his family. Emma's eyes kept coming back to [him] as though he were august. He had lived at court ! He had slept with a queen ! ”Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
In Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary (1949), the heroine, Emma, is star-struck in the presence of the ranked class, the aristocracy. She is especially captivated by the old duc de Laverdi ere. In her mind, this decayed man is the epitome of greatness. She sees a dashing, gallant man of action and romance, while the reader sees the reality of a worn-out, dilapidated, empty shell of a man, whose life is no more gallant and dashing than the gravy dripping from his unhealthy, oversized lips. The contrast is striking, and I couldn't help but begin this chapter on the myth of leadership with this arresting image from Flaubert. The old aristocrat could very well be the poster child for leadership ”or more precisely, for the myth of leadership ”where rank alone demands and generally gets awe and respect, not to mention grand rewards. Emma's unfortunate life will play itself out through her distorted perception of reality, blinded by the false glow of superior rank. Every day in business, similar tragedies play themselves out ”as employees and managers fall victim to the rank-based myth of leadership.