Look at that plaque on the desk where you spend eight hours (or more) of your day. It may be engraved with an impressive title like “vice president” or “sales associate” or “executive financial officer.” Or, perhaps your corporate identity exists at the top of a time card — “cashier” or “assembly” or “maintenance.” In any case, no matter how extravagant or simple your occupational description is, imagine how things might change if you had a different career designation.
What if your title was: “Knight in Shining Armor”?
The world of business is, by nature, competitive, fast-paced, chaotic and intense — an environment not unlike that of the Middle Ages during the days of knights in shining armor. A medieval knight was expected to charge into battle without flinching at the possibility of suffering a few dents in the fray, but was also expected to behave in a gracious and considerate manner all the while.
In an attempt to reconcile these two seemingly incongruous expectations, the knights of the Middle Ages created the code of chivalry — a set of standards which guided them on a path of ethical and admirable conduct, even in the heat of battle. Today’s businesspeople can benefit from examining the code of chivalry as a guide for leadership and professional ethics in the workplace — in fact, you may find those hard-working knights in shining armor of the Middle Ages were a lot like professionals in the competitive workplace environment of the twenty-first century.
Let’s consider how the seven knightly virtues of the code of chivalry can be put to use on the job today.
Knights in shining armor needed courage to compete in the rough-and-tumble environment of a melee. Business today requires courage to take calculated risks in order to help an enterprise succeed and expand. But there are other kinds of courage that enhance not just quick profits, but long-term corporate health: the courage to take responsibility for mistakes and oversights, the courage to accept criticism (from clients, co-workers and employees) objectively and graciously, and the courage to decline opportunities for profit gained by harming others. Courage in business is much more than just risk-taking.
Medieval knights upheld the king’s law not just by brute force, but by conducting themselves with the highest degree of justice. Today, everyone within a healthy company should know they are subject to fair and reasonable rules. What messages are sent (to both customers and business associates) when a high-level executive gets a sizable bonus after layoffs have been announced? Does anyone benefit when workers are encouraged to ignore quality standards to meet a high-pressure deadline?
After a jousting match, the winning knight saluted his fallen opponent and complimented him on his skill. Winning a battle for a promotion or a big contract in the business world is certainly a cause for celebration, but — like a knight in shining armor — when the battle’s done, you should allow your defeated opponent to rise with dignity rather than delivering a death-blow. When the situation is reversed (as it surely will be someday) you will reap the benefits of showing a merciful attitude to worthy competitors.
A medieval knight was expected to share his fortune, in good times as well as in lean. Businesses which, to the best of their ability, provide a little “extra value” to their customers and clients engender tremendous loyalty in the market; workers who know their employer treats them generously are far more inclined to return that favor if the company ever finds itself struggling.
A knight’s “word of honor” was expected to be a binding promise. Do your colleagues, employees and customers feel the same way about you? Do they put their trust in your company to always look out for their best interests? Are you known for always coming through on commitments and meeting deadlines? A reputation for faithfulness creates a productive business environment, and allows everyone in the workplace to turn their full energy toward business, rather than “checking up” on dubious claims and guarantees.
A knight in shining armor didn’t earn that title by acting chivalrously only in the presence of the king. Having a noble demeanor means acting with chivalry and ethics, even when you know nobody else is watching. If an auditor were to walk into your office today, how would that change the way you’re doing business? (Good or bad, the chances are your customers and employees know the answer to that question just as well as you do.)
A knight with a cheerful attitude was a beacon of hope amid the uncertainty and despair of the Middle Ages. Today, having a positive, optimistic outlook in the workplace benefits customers and colleagues alike, and it also serves as a reminder that there is intellectual stimulation and personal reward to be found in any job, position or career.
No matter what your title, you should carry the code of chivalry into the workplace every morning. There is no office, department, retail outlet or production facility that can’t be improved by understanding and adopting the virtues of chivalry as a way of doing business. In an age where workers, managers and executives alike are tempted to indulge in questionable ethical practices, one of the most effective means of success is to give yourself a new job description: “Knight in Shining Armor.”