Why Havelock Vetinari is a great leader

Havelock Vetinari… , I can imagine that his name does not ring a bell for most, and if it does, most will probably deny any connections to the man himself.

Vetinari is the leader of Ankh Morpork, and as such, in dire need of some benevolant dictatorship skills. Ankh Morpork is not just your average kind of organisation, even if you would discribe an above average organisation as a handfull of loonies running a fishing equipment shop in the desert.

How to cope with such a – shall we say – challenge? The man has risen to every occasion, and occasions where plenty in the City that homes the Ankh (a river so polluted you were able to walk on it, though it was considered a very bad idea).


Vetinari came to leadership after a period of terror upon Ankh Morpork. His predecessor was named Mad or Psychoneurotic Lord Snapcase, a man who finally managed to stretch every limit of human and related decensy, after having a man eat his own nose for an unknown crime.

Vetinari has since reigned the Pearl of Cities as follows:

“He didn’t administer a reign of terror, just the occasional light shower”

This may seem harsh in our modern leadership thinking but then again lets keep in mind that Ankh Morpork is not your average kind of organisation.

In an attempt to stay as far away from complexity as possible (I don’t actually know the words to explain complex issues but than again, who has…), we’ll focus on 3 key behaviour groups that leaders compete with in the race to stay ahead of the imminent chaos that accompanies forced relationships in organisations. Having a warm heart, keeping a cool head and inspiring working hands:

Warm heart

It has been recorded that Vetinari once said:” I’m not completely heartless, you know.”. Therefore we can assume there is a possibility that he can have a warm heart for others.

Vetinari might even be an empatic man. I guess perhaps so empatic that he succesfully manages to disguise his feelings of empathy, in order not to upset others with his own feelings derived from his empatic process.

It might as well be that Havelock Vetinari is somekind of predatory flamingo, if ever one existed (and I assume that predatory flamingo’s are not empatic but can just fake their darwinnian way through the process of paying attention and feeling the needs of their spouse).

This will probably not convince you, after all, you are reading a piece about leadership and thus are not to be fooled with, so let’s put the proof and the pudding a little closer together. A few quotes from Lord Vetinari:

  • “Be careful. People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things…well, new things aren’t what they expect.” 

Vetinari proves here that he is considerate towards his fellow human beings (and other  usefull species as we will see in a second). Sudden changes do nothing more than arouse the feelings and mostly terrible intentions of people that had bad intentions in the first place. Furthermore are these changes to be maintained only by employing more labour force to do paperwork en general ‘force’ work. Not terribly efficient and it creates a mess in the streets.

This doesn’t mean that there is no change at all. If things don’t work, they are generally fixed very quick. Allthough nobody seems to know that Vetinari is pulling strings to get the operation running again.

  • Vetinari is broadly tolerant of individual rights, but highly intolerant of people who place their own interests above those of the city.(Wikipedia)

And tolerant he is, with the exeption for mimes (Vetinari banned all mime performances from Ankh-Morpork shortly after taking power. Mime artists who violate the ban usually find themselves hanging upside down in Vetinari’s scorpion pit while reading a sign saying “learn the words.” – Wikipedia).  His tolerancy towards other races even surpasses every society we know today in our modern world. Diversity is not caught up in workshops and meetings, diveristy is managed in day to day conflict-solution. A learning organisation ‘avant la lettre’!

Cool head

  • “You think there are the good people and the bad people. You are wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.”

His succes is probably that it is very difficult to suprise Vetinari with a crisis. He is up to speed with human behaviour – in the specific way that doesn’t require a lab coat, a HR degree or a Phd in social sciences. Little is known about his past, but what is common knowledge is that he studied in the assassins acedemy (not the one  from Xbox, the real one) which gave him a firm grasp on understanding all living and sometimes less living things.

This knowledge combined with his understanding of what is working, what will break up and what must refrain from working in his city is essential in his crisismanagement style.

Working hands

Most of the time Vetinari is caught up in short conversations with city folk in order to recognise them, be up to date with their thoughts and alter their behaviour slightly (there is only one registred occasion where that behaviour was to walk into an open door that led into a room without a floor, witnesses confirm that the man went in by free will).

He has the talent to enlighten them with a broader view than their own interests, he is there to deliver insights. Which is again a proof of his empatic approach because the new insight might help the new enlightened Ankh Morporkian to remain within the thriving and most important of all breathing society.

Anyway, concerning working hands and entrepreneurship, Vetinari leads the leadership polls. His track record in reigning Ankh Mopork proves that the man is capable of deducting and activating the strenghts of any person he encounters. A true leadership quality. He also succesfully adopted legal institutions for theft, murder, sexual encounters and many more…

In his view there shouldn’t be a focus on ‘weak points’ but a strong focus on applying strong points when opportunity arises.

In short, he’s got my vote for leadership.

If you are still not convinced, try reading some of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.

They rule…

drawing by Paul Kidby (the high priest of the drawing skills)

drawing by Paul Kidby (the high priest of the drawing skills)


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