That iconic line from the equally iconic Black Panther corner of the Marvel superhero universe took on a truly poignant new heft last week. It’s meant to powerfully conjure a love of kingdom; a deep pride in identity and heritage; an honoring of origins and a vision of future impact. Now it also brings to mind (and heart) the man who played Wakanda’s king—who seems to have himself embodied the best of what the Ruler story type stands for in the world.
Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer last week, at the age of 43, after a four-year battle with colon cancer. His actions during that time were almost astonishingly resilient. For four years, he made movies between surgeries and chemotherapy rounds. He crafted a body of work that he knew would matter even if he was gone. He shaped and shared an influential voice. He took serious responsibility for modeling the right things for his young fans. He portrayed real-life legends (Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, James Brown) in ways that extended their already considerable impact.
And he played the king in one of the most important and groundbreaking films of our time.
Does an actor have to be like the characters he plays to do them justice? Not necessarily. But Chadwick Boseman showed up with intensely king-like energy as he brought so many legends to life—and the ways he demonstrated resilience in his own battle were the ways of a high-level Ruler story type.
This is the fourth of 12 weekly posts I’m writing about resilience. I’m sharing thoughts and feelings about what each story type looks like in a non-resilient state, and how people who are like that type can use their unique gifts, perspective and values to shift back into a more resilient place. This week’s post is about the Ruler story type.
In a non-resilient state, Rulers have a tough time weathering the chaos that can emerge around them when things aren’t going well. Non-resilient Rulers can be overcome by insecurity as a result, forgetting what’s best for others and holding tighter to the reins of control. The shift back to resilience involves feeling back into their personal confidence and focusing where progress can best be made instead of railing at things they can’t control (or shouldn’t).
Understanding the Ruler’s gift
Here’s where we are on the resilience chart at four weeks into the series. Take a look at how the Ruler story type shows up in a non-resilient state, and what gift, focus and values can create a resilience boost:
|Type||Non-resilient state||Resilience-building attribute or gift||Resilience-building focus||Related values|
|Ruler||Insecurity||Confidence||Progress||Responsibility, Role Modeling, Influence|
|Empathy||Solidarity||Community, Justice, Fairness|
|Caregiver||Overwhelm||Compassion||Human potential||Service, Kindness, Development|
|Innocent||Disillusionment||Optimism||Hope||Ideals, Faith, Values in Action|
The very best Rulers are those who take social responsibility for the good of a whole (a kingdom, an organization, an affinity group, an initiative). They usually have a kind of personal power or presence that generates influence and builds followership. They see themselves as role models. Whether they’re running an enterprise or managing a project, they know how to make things move forward more smoothly.
Doing this requires a great deal of personal investment and energy. When chaos and disorder rock the boat, it’s no surprise that responsibility can start morphing into insecurity, or that way showing can start to look like micro-managing. If you’re a Ruler, the way back is remembering what makes you confident in yourself and applying it where progress is either most possible or most sorely needed. It’s very much about discerning what’s right and doing it.
The journey of T’Challah in Black Panther is one of committing to do the right thing. His is not the generic Hero story; not ever really about saving the day by defeating a foe. He becomes the man his kingdom—and the world—needs.
The journey of Chadwick Boseman is similar. He didn’t vanquish cancer. Instead, he shaped a legacy. He left powerful portraits of people who made enduring marks in their fields, who stood for something larger than themselves—in ways and in times that were never easy for those who looked like him.
He paid attention to whether things were being done the right way. He took on the mantle of role model. He said things that needed to be said, and used his personal presence to be heard.
Chadwick Boseman was a leader. His Black Panther co-star Danai Gurira said “he was perfectly equipped to take on the responsibility of leading the franchise that changed everything for Black Representation.”
Chadwick Boseman asked others to take responsibility themselves, too. In the final tweet posted before his death, he congratulated Kamala Harris—and reminded everyone to do their civic duty and vote. Securing that right for so many people took tremendous resilience on the part of those who led the fights. Chadwick Boseman knew that. Let’s remember that ourselves as we remember him.
Activating the Ruler resilience quotient
Consider the following questions if you want to fuel up your Ruler resilience quotient:
- What are you micro-managing or holding too tightly right now—and where can you shift your attention?
- What qualities do you have that contribute to your self confidence—and how can you rely on those more now?
- Where can you make important progress at work, in your community or in the world?
- What will you choose to be responsible for right now, and what will that look like?
- What’s your right thing to do, right now?
In Black Panther, Nakia tells T’Challah that “you get to decide what kind of king you are going to be.” We all do, wherever and however our sphere of influence is felt. Let’s make it matter, like Chadwick did.
Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help professionals, teams and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world. She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and Founder of the Narrative Intelligence Collective. She’s also co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (take the free version here)
Chadwick Boseman photo by Gage Skidmore.