“[Hans Christian] Andersen used to say that fairy tales are written so that children can go to sleep, but also so that adults can wake up.” That’s why Alex Rovira, professor at ESADE [business school in Spain] decided that his latest book on management would be a fairy tale, rather than a mere explanation of his theories about management. In little more than two months, ‘The Seven Powers’ has become one of the best-selling non-fiction books in Spain, much like the author’s previous book, “Good Luck,” which was translated into more than 30 languages. On this occasion, Rovira has chosen the typical characters of a medieval story to explain the seven fundamental values that define a good leader. These values are also necessary for building personality in children and adults so that they can fearlessly confront the daily challenges of real life. The seven values that Rovira explains through means of a simple fairy tale are the following: Courage, Responsibility, Purpose, Humility, Confidence, Love and Cooperation. As Schopenhauer said, “Fate deals us a set of cards, and we play them.”
Rovira’s story begins when Nul, the villain of the tale, kidnaps the son of the king, who is wise and good. Given the lack of an heir to rule over the kingdom of Albor, the ruler selects a Young Knight to be his successor. However, the Young Knight decides to try, first of all, to rescue the son of the king despite the fact that everyone who tried has failed and has never returned to the Land of Destiny. To complete this heroic deed, the Young Knight counts on the advice of three knights – Cap, Cop and Cor – and on the young damsel Alma. In addition to a wizard, the Young Knight is accompanied on his voyage by an owl. A boy also offers him the innocent viewpoint of those who are not yet contaminated by stereotypes, clichés and unfounded fears.
Although it seems that the choice of names is unimportant, Rovira explains to Universia-Knowledge at Wharton that the three knights “symbolize, first, our minds (Cap, derived from “cabeza,” Spanish for head); our actions (Cop, derived from “golpe,” Spanish for “blow” or “knock”) and our feelings (Cor, derived from “corazon,” Spanish for “heart”). Nul represents total loss and a feeling of emptiness that embodies “the fear that blocks us, the anguish that paralyzes us, and the paranoia that leads us to see enemies where there aren’t any.” Rovira explains that this evil character also reflects the limitless ambition, which contrasts with the values represented by the Young Knight and the king.
The king represents wisdom and experience acquired over time. He argues in favor of the idea that “without challenges, we cannot grow. Fear of failure kills life… If you think that you cannot do something, you will not be able to do it. If you think that you cannot dare to do something, you won’t do it. If you believe that you are defeated, then you are defeated… The greatest defeat does not consist in failing to overcome a challenge but in not even trying to do so. The battle of life is not always won by the strongest or the most agile or the fastest, but by he who believes that he will be able to win.”
The advice of the young men reflects the range of approaches that can be used when confronting challenges. Cap is convinced that, “although you’re in a tough situation, you must always have a positive attitude.” Cop asserts that “true strength is always found in action; in making an effort and learning from your own mistakes.” Cor, who goes a bit further, believes that “Life gives us two gifts – time and the freedom to choose. Invest your time intelligently but, most of all, make choices according to the dictates of your heart. Your compassion can determine not only your destiny but also the destiny of many other people because we are not alone, and everything that we do affects other people, directly or indirectly. Always choose the road of love in your life; the road of the heart, because there is no man whom love does not make brave and transform into a hero.”
“Yours is the challenge; your obligation is to choose. Nobody can decide for you, just as nobody can think, learn or search for you.” The author is referring to the responsibility everyone has when it comes time to dealing with his or her acts, such as the responsibility of a manager who leads a team toward the achievement of its goals. Although the main character in this tale is a Young Knight, Rovira stresses that “any of us, no matter what our age, gender or circumstances, faces a continuous series of challenges that we must overcome if we want to continue with dignity, and complete the road of life.” With that goal in mind, Rovira defines seven powers; seven values that must guide the process toward a successful conclusion. The voyage of the Young Knight toward the Land of Destiny does not mean, however, that we can always get everything that we want. The author says that he likes to define destiny as “what will certainly happen to you if you do nothing to avoid it. The Land of Destiny is a metaphor for inertia; for the kind of life in which we do nothing to change or to create new conditions that bring us prosperity or fulfill the common good and or realize our potential.”
According to Rovira, some people are architects of their destiny, and are capable of radically transforming their lives and those of other people much more than we might imagine if we considered the circumstances from which they began. Architects of destiny create good luck, and they do so by applying the seven attitudes that define the seven powers.” “We can’t overcome every challenge,” stresses Rovira. “Yet many challenges that seem impossible to us would not be impossible if we dared to confront them. It’s astonishing to see the capacity that people have for going a lot further than we thought they could go at the time they started out.”
In order to confront these challenges – whether in business or another activity – you have to bring together the seven values that some people don’t know about or, at the least, don’t pay enough attention to, says Rovira. Those values are: Courage, Responsibility, Purpose, Humility, Confidence, Love, and Cooperation. Rovira assures us that “all these values are fundamental, and normally one value cannot exist without the others. In addition, the order in which they appear in the book is not insignificant; it follows a certain logic. The first value is Courage because without Courage, it is impossible to create new conditions or emerge from what is well-known and dare to create a new reality. Next, without the value of Responsibility, we cannot learn from our mistakes and make life a process of continuous improvement. And in order to persevere, advance and grow, we need the vision and will manifested in the power of Purpose. Next, Humility is indispensable if we do not want to become blinded by vanity and rapidly lose everything that we have achieved. And without Confidence, it is not possible to build any project that is solid and stable, or to create lasting personal relationships. Without the power manifested in Love – and embodied in acts that aim at the common good – the other powers would not exist at all. Without doubt, Love is the most important of all of the powers. Finally, there is Cooperation, which is the natural result of the six powers mentioned earlier.”
According to Rovira, “Courage is not the simple absence of fear but the awareness that there is something that is worth the pain of taking risks. Courage converts a threat into an opportunity.” In his voyage to the Land of Destiny, the Young Knight discovers that his attitude is critical when he faces up to his challenges. “Both the optimist and the pessimist wind up dying; the difference lies in how they have lived their lives and, as a result, how they face death.” When the protagonist of the tale must deal with an enormous dragon, he learns this lesson: The bravest person is not the one who throws himself into a battle that is already lost but the person who thinks hard about what to do in that situation, and figures out the nature of his enemy.
Rovira defines Responsibility as “the ability to respond to the mistakes, changes, failures and crises that life presents. True success is not possible unless you are responsible, and unless you experience every reversal as a great opportunity to learn.” The Young Knight will have to make some hard decisions during his adventure in order to survive his test, and to rescue the son of the king. When an opportunity presents itself, there are times when his instinct tells him that something is not going well; something strange is happening. Responsibility leads all of us to weigh multiple possibilities and learn that the correct road is not always the fastest road. Short cuts can lead us directly into a trap from which it is very hard to escape. We not only have to be responsible in our dealings with ourselves, but also responsible about our personal principles and values when we defend a cause – despite the fact that those values can sometimes lead us to make mistakes. The sage words of the king explain the power of this value: “If I lived my life with the feeling that I was infallible, I would always blame other people; I would not correct my errors, and I would learn nothing and would not change. I would see other people as the enemy that causes my mistakes when, in fact, I am the cause of the good or bad luck that results from my action.”
For Rovira, Purpose is “the will and dedication to turn a dream into reality. Those people who want to do things achieve more than those who merely have the ability [to do things].” This value is closely related to Responsibility, since “true achievement and success are not possible unless you have the freedom to fail. It is only when you dare to fail in a spectacular way that you can turn dreams that appear to be impossible into reality.” During his voyage, the Young Knight learns that “in order to arrive, you have to start off.” There are times when “we do not dare to do many things because they are so hard to do. It is more correct to say, however, that those things are difficult for us because we do not even dare to do them,” says Rovira.
“Humility enables us to see things as they are, without the distortions created by the lens of vanity. Vanity blinds and humility reveals.” That is how the author defines the fourth power. If there is anything that senior executives and entrepreneurs have been accused of for decades, it is a lack of humility. For Rovira, “Those people who are truly powerful have great humility. They do not try to impress others; their principles are not something that they freely and permanently show off. Their very presence is inspiring and it lifts the spirit. They invite and influence and offer advice to others but they do not manipulate other people or use coercion, threats or aggression to achieve their ends. They are honest and coherent. They preach with example. These make the effort to know and recognize other people. And, above all, they listen [to others].” On his road into the mountains for his next test, the Young Knight becomes aware that “too often people feel comfortable with vanity. What would happen if we freed ourselves from vanity? First of all, we would discard the false ideas of grandeur that often lead us toward our own destruction. Second, we would take advantage of the available energy to achieve what really matters: cultivating excellence and helping those around us to perceive their qualities and virtues – and to shine.”
Rovira believes that “Confidence is what enables us to take on challenges that appear to be impossible and overcome them.” Confidence is the strength that brings us higher so that we can fulfill our own desires. Like the other values, Confidence is related to the other previously mentioned powers. Confidence is necessary in order to know ourselves, and to identify our strengths and weaknesses, and those of our competitors. But the important thing is to move forward and have confidence in oneself. “You will fail if you continue to stay in the same place. If you don’t take risks, your life will not get better,” cries the stone wall to the Young Knight, who is standing at an abyss. He could have plunged into the abyss if he tried to cross it. His adventure could have ended right there if he did not have enough confidence in his ability to get to the other side and continue along that road. This does not imply, however, that you have to throw yourself into suicidal missions. You have to be realistic about challenges. Yet those people “who believe that something is impossible should neither interrupt nor disturb those who work toward making that ‘something’ possible,” says Rovira. “If we don’t take risks, we tie ourselves down with our own fear of failure.”
According to Rovira, “the greatest of the powers is Love, which manifests itself in the collective acts of people when they combine their talents to turn their individual and collective dreams into a reality that serves the common good. The other powers are derived from the power of Love.” Love is closely linked to passion to complete a task and confront a challenge. “The architects of destiny — those who create power — work toward developing possibilities and conditions. They avoid becoming the victims of such easy options as futile complaints, gratuitous threats or the permanent sense of being a victim, which destroys our internal strength,” says Rovira. For such people, Love pushes human beings not only to do things for the common good but also to make every possible effort to do so. As the king, who has the experience and wisdom of old age, notes: “Look around and you will see that all human beings who have achieved great things are the same in one respect: They did not believe in luck. They believed in the strength of will. They were convinced that things did not happen because of strokes of good luck but because of a complex cause-and-effect relationship, in which they decided that they would always be ‘the cause.’”
Unity and Cooperation
“Any power that has no foundation in unity is a weak power. Without Cooperation, there is neither progress nor prosperity,” asserts Rovira. In his opinion, the various powers should not be understood as laws for dominating other people but as an integrated process for achieving personal excellence and serving others. Unity derives from Love, the previously mentioned power. Throughout his adventure, the Young Knight discovers that it is possible to achieve things that were unimaginable when people bring together their strengths and work as a team. The leader is especially relevant as the catalyst of a team that must cooperate with one another to overcome any challenge.
Like all fairy tales that end “happily ever after,” this tale has come to an end. Although almost everyone winds up happily eating partridges, just as in the best thriller novels, the author has created a magical world that has a surprising conclusion. Will the Young Knight rescue the king’s son? Or will other knights have to go to the Land of Destiny? “The Seven Powers” presents, in the form of an innocent fairy tale for children, the keys for undertaking our own adventure and for summoning the courage to take the reins of our own destiny