The Magician Leadership of Muhammad Ali

 In Archetype Character, Leadership

The Magician Leadership of Muhammad Ali

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 12.31.16 PMMy very first image of Muhammad Ali was connected with The Beatles – that famous photo where they are side-by-side and Ali is pretending to knock the four or them down with a single punch as if they were dominoes. I imagine I would have come to know him sooner than later anyway but the only reason I knew who he was then was that he was in a photo with The Beatles.

In one of the many stories told about Ali in the past month, the photographer Harry Benson tells that he was sent on an assignment to Miami to create that publicity photo. The Beatles had just arrived in the US and were big news. So was the Sonny Liston/Cassius Clay heavyweight fight. Putting the two events together on film couldn’t hurt. When Benson arrived in Miami he learned that Ali (then named Clay) didn’t really care much about being photographed with The Beatles, “those sissies.” In turn, they would have rather been seen with the more famous Sonny Liston than the “loudmouth Clay” as John Lennon said. The meeting took place as planned and the photos became some of the most iconic photos ever shot by Harry Benson. The superstars went on to become phenomena in boxing and music. It was like magic.

The Magician’s Greatest Qualities

ali-greatestAli possessed Magician qualities like no other sports legend in history. He was the self-proclaimed Greatest of All Time – #GOAT became a trending hashtag the day after he died. In spite of his often overbearing self-aggrandizement, he was beloved and followed, inspiring athletes and leaders around the world. What were the Magician qualities he possessed and how can these qualities continue to inspire today’s leaders beyond Ali’s death?

  • The ability to bedazzle others with powers of manifestation proving that nothing is impossible.
  • Using words that convince others of a way that will work because you so strongly trust your own instincts and intuition.
  • Sharing a magic picture of your world to create that vision for others
  • Thinking “outside the box”

The power of Magician Leaders

Some of the events that illustrate his magic powers are templates for leaders in sports, business, government and non-profit organizations. At a time when it seems as though we cannot visualize a good future, these leadership lessons, if sustained, could motivate and inspire us to think assuredly and positively.

  • float-like-a-butterfly-sting-like-a-bee-Muhammad-Ali1Ali was brilliant at creating mental images that motivated strong beliefs in his success. “I’m gonna float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” was a picture startlingly juxtaposed with the violence of boxing but we could see it when his feet danced in the ring.
  • He showed us, in time, that his protest of the Vietnam War had merit. As a penalty for draft dodging, his career was suspended for 3 years. He used the time to help others embrace a vision of peace and justice. “You serious? I got to stay here and lead my people to the right man — Elijah Muhammad.” — when asked why he didn’t flee the country in an interview by Robert Lipsyte of The New York Times on April 26, 1967, two days before refusing induction into military service.
  • And even in his illness that rendered him weak and almost mute, he created an image of bravery and strength when he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta in 1996. “There almost seemed to be a light behind his head when he appeared,” and “the world held it’s breath,” said several commentators after the event.

Like Ali, Magicians are often laughed at. They will stop at nothing sometimes to bring people to their side. They aren’t necessarily fact-driven like Sages or structured like Rulers, but they believe what they believe so strongly that their vision compels themselves and others.

Do you know a Magician? If yes, hear and see the magic they possess today and see if it motivates you.  I’d love to hear your Magician stories too.

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  • Kerra

    This post, while initially intriguing, misses the point about Muhammad Ali’s greatness and the significance of his genius as a magician.

    The author’s exclusion of the importance of race in Ali’s life and the contempt for his “often overbearing self-aggrandizement” made me wonder why she even used him as an example in the first place, except maybe as a news hook and a blog post was due.

    Let me break it down for you as a magician as to WHY Ali was a magician. He invoked a spirit of racial pride and empowerment by saying things like “I am the greatest” at a time when blacks were denied civil rights and liberties. He dared to say “I’m pretty” in a country that demonized and continues to do so to black men.

    He refused to go to Vietnam because “no Vietcong ever called me a nigger.” Ali was hated by white America for his stance, which came from a moral conviction that all people deserved to be treated fairly and justly under the laws of the nation. THAT is why his transformation as the greatest athlete of the twentieth century was important. Ali lent swagger and grace to an oppressed people through his athleticism and platform, That made him magical.

    I appreciate the attempt to add pop cultural relevancy and maybe even diversity. But please don’t insult potential customers by ignoring the truth of race because you don’t recognize it or think it may make people uncomfortable.

    • Andrea

      I appreciate your forthrightness Kerra and bringing Ali’s Magician to life through the lens of civil rights and racial inequality. That was not part of my perspective when I was writing, but clearly central to his magic: He proved to the very same people who challenged him, that his vision of greatness actually inspired greatness in himself and others. This is the true beauty of a Magician.

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