Part 1 – Rigoletto

I was sitting at the opera last night thinking about what I was seeing and how it provides evidence of what good leadership – or, more commonly, its opposite – looks like. So, I plan to write occasionally about the management lessons found in the classic opera repertoire.

First up, Rigoletto. What can we learn from this opera?

(I’m not going to include a full plot summary – if you need that you should look here)

Rigoletto works as a court jester for a powerful duke. Urged on by the Duke, Rigoletto has mocked and belittled other courtiers so not only do they have no loyalty to him, they actively dislike him. [Rule 1 – Build collaborative relationships and networks with your colleagues. You never know when you might need their help.]

Later, Rigoletto meets with an assassin who will help rid him of his enemies – for a fee. Rigoletto doesn’t hire him but keeps his services in mind. [Rule 2 – Keep your options open when you are trying to solve a complex problem, and recognize that you may not have the needed skill set in-house.)

The Duke has seen Rigoletto’s beautiful daughter, Gilda, from afar, and finds out where she lives to attempt to seduce her while pretending he is a poor student. [Rule 3 – Do thorough reference checks.]

Other courtiers come to Rigoletto’s house and kidnap his daughter. [See Rule 1. Again.]

Back at the palace, the Duke seduces Gilda (doing his Hollywood producer thing) while his courtiers, enablers all, egg him on and prevent Rigoletto from rescuing his daughter. [Rule 4 – Have a no-harassment policy and enforce it across the entire organization.]

Far from being a poor student, the Duke turns out to be a serial womanizer/predator. While Gilda watches, he sings the famous “la donna e mobile” aria about the flightiness of women. [Rule 4a. Don’t point fingers or make up excuses for your own behaviour.]

A small digression – see link to this part of the aria – elephants yeah – which has nothing to do with management behaviour but makes me laugh when I hear it.

Towards the end of Act 3, the main characters sing the beautiful quartet “Bella figlia dall’amore”.  This quartet illustrates a common feature of operas, when multiple characters sing different lines of music that fit together beautifully. The problem is that they are all singing at the same time so their different perspectives are not being shared. [Rule 5 – You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in appropriate proportions.]

Rigoletto hires the assassin to kill the duke, but he kills Gilda instead. Rigoletto, after paying the assassin, discovers that the Duke lives on and that the victim is Gilda. [Rule 6 – When you are hiring consultants, make sure you have a clear statement of requirements and outcomes, and that you are satisfied with the outcome before you make your final installment payment.)

All good lessons and some good singing as well. I recommend this opera as an example of the need to build healthy workplace relationships and what can happen if you don’t.