The leader that will be depicted in this case study has been celebrated as a patriot and a hero by some and has been called a traitorous usurper by others. Regardless of what other people believed, no one can deny that Robert Bruce, King of Scots, was the one who ultimately led his country to victory in the First War of Scottish Independence from England. This case study will follow a specific event and I will cover his leadership style, actions and ability through critical thinking. The areas that will be covered will be the situation that made him, strengths and weaknesses, ethics and community, organizational culture and decision making. I will close this case study with what I have learned through my research that will better myself as a leader.

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The situation

In 1306 Robert Bruce arranged a meeting with, John ‘The Red’ Comyn, at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. We know that the two had been rivals for the crown of Scotland, but this meeting was to be for a union between clans. During the meeting tempers flared, and Bruce felt as if he had been betrayed so he stabbed Comyn before the high altar of the church. Within six weeks Bruce was crowned king at Scone and started his rein clamming Scotland’s independence at the battle Bannockburn near Stirling in the year 1314. (BBC Scotland’s History – The Wars of Independence, n.d.)

Leadership strengths and weaknesses.

Perseverance through inspiration was one of Robert the Bruce’s strength. He was able to paint a vivid picture of a different and better reality of what it was to be free. His vision was concrete, so people could see it, touch it, smell it, and taste it.  This gave people that supported him hope that things can be better, and he had a plan for making it so. He supported those who had the same desires as he did and stopped at nothing to achieve it. Instrumental rewards motivate leaders when they perceive that their behavior or actions will lead to certain extrinsic tangible outcomes, such as pay, promotions, bonuses, etc. (Barbuto, 2005) Robert believed in his people and they believed in him to unite the clans and become a free country. Robert had to inspire a country that was broken due to years of war with England under to rule of King Edward I. Robert himself found his drive through many individuals but a Scottish knight by the name of William Wallace, started and led risings that loosened Edwards grip. The grip was finally broken at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. (BBC Scotland’s History – The Wars of Independence, n.d.) Inspiration can be used as a powerful tool regardless of what the setting is. I have seen through my life experiences people want to know that their lives have meaning. I think that Robert understood that his people wanted to know that they represented something more than being a cog in a machine. They wanted to know that their sacrifices mattered because this would lead to suffrage among the Scottish people. Robert used inspirational leadership to connect them to a larger story. This inspiration was in the form of his courage to take a stand against king Edward I.

Robert the Bruce had an agenda and all though the goal was to free Scotland he also wanted to be king, and this clouded his judgment resulting in unethical actions. His ego was aperient to me being his weakness but, also became one of his strengths. His pursuit for the throne came with a price and started a chain reaction of extreme torment to the Scottish people. After comparing Roberts actions to the article How the Mighty Fall, Robert the Bruce went through just about all the stages. But the stage two Undisciplined Pursuit of More was the one that stood out to me.  (“We’re so great, we can do anything!”) leads right into Stage 2, the Undisciplined Pursuit of More – more scale, more growth, more acclaim, more of whatever those in power see as “success.” (Collins, 2009) these actions caused Robert the Bruce not to start off as the hero the people of Scotland say he is, he had a slow start. That pivotal moment got the ball rolling, but it was a rocky road. The murder of John Comyn kick started him to the throne however, it divided the country due to people had support for both men. Many joined the English in suppressing the Scottish rebels. Bruce was defeated at Methven near Perth in June and he was forced to flee into exile, he was forced to abandon family and friends to death and imprisonment. These early failures may have set him back on his plans, but I think that this became a strength through courage not quit.

Ethics and community.

The effects of Robert the Bruce’s actions had both positive and adverse consequences on the community. He’s actions resulted in him becoming an enemy from both England and his own countrymen. The murder of his closest rival at a church in Dumfries caused a chain reaction of circumstances both from Scotland and England. The Scottish people as different communities in the form of clans turned on each other due to their political support of each of these two leaders. However, on the English side this allowed King Edward the ability to impose harsh actions on the Scottish people, resulting in mass murders, genocide and property loss and destruction to the food supply. The King of England targeted the Scottish city’s, but one example was the city of Berwick, sparing “no one, whatever the age or sex, and for two days streams of blood flowed from the bodies of the slain so that mills could be turned by the flow of their blood.” (Solly, 2018) The actions from the king of England resulted in positive effects where those that were on the fence about supporting Robert now had a justification to swear fealty to their new king. In turn uniting most of the clans as one country. Robert the Bruce’s supporters later help change the course of history by solidified Robert’s legitimacy and having the excommunication of his kingship annulled. In 1320, the nobles of Scotland sent a letter to Pope John XXII to contend for Scotland’s freedom from English rule. The significance of the letter became what is known as the ‘Declaration of Arbroath’ it explained why Scotland should be independent, and it attempted to justify Bruce’s actions, and it showed that the nobles were starting to unit and approved of Bruce as their king. “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honors that we are fighting, but for freedom for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.” Exert from the ‘Declaration of Arbroath’ (BBC, n.d.)

Regardless, ethical lines had been crossed the act of murder to get what you want has its uneasy feeling to it. When a manager or leader displays a lack of ethical behavior, he faces losing the respect of his employees or followers. It is difficult to be successful in any aspect without a well-respected leader. A lack of ethical behavior can cause tension among people, with some individuals resenting those who do not play by the rules and still manage to get ahead. (Zeiger, 2018) I also had to keep in mind the time period and was Robert’s actions although un-ethical was it justified? In my opinion the answer would be yes, the act itself was justified due to Coymn’s treachery. In Roberts eyes it was a kill or be killed situation and the only way to fulfill his goal was to eliminate him as a threat to Robert and his people.

Organizational Culture.

To understand the organizational culture, one must understand the shadowy times of the dark ages. Life as a citizen in Scotland during this time was hash due to having to pay for a war that was not of their choosing, Scottish nobles had supported England before Bruce’s crowning. Robert the Bruce had it a little better than the average citizen because he was born into a family that was in line for the throne. Robert the Bruce carried the same name as his grandfather and was from noble blood. (BBC Scotland’s History – The Wars of Independence, n.d.) This organizational culture fostered a culture more authoritarian in nature. The citizens at this point supported Robert and followed him to no end to see that his plan of independence was fulfilled.  The authoritarian style was more predominate during the dark ages due to kings and or queens ruled the kingdom and it was from them that power succeeded.  However, once Robert was crowned king the culture changed around him. When the news of Robert being crowned king quickly spread throughout Scotland and its people drew up arms in the support their new king. Robert the Bruce’s family suffered a great treatment many killed, and the woman imprisoned in cages. Bruce himself, spent years living in conditions most of us will never suffer, in caves and hunted both by the English and various Scottish clans who sided with the English due to his actions. Mary Bruce and Isabella MacDuff Bruce’s sisters were both held prisoner in wooden or iron cages, suspended from castle walls, for the amusement of crowds who mocked and threw things.  Mary lived like this, exposed to all seasons, from 1306 until 1310 on the walls of Roxburgh Castle. (Bruce, 2010)

Decision Making.

Depending on who it is you supported during this time will show what side of the coin Bruce lies on.  The choice to kill his rival and or competition to be next in line to the throne does depend on what eyes you look at the situation. When we covered the Thinking Hats, we discussed that we shouldn’t stay in the mindset of just one hat and the use of a team will help dissect the information to find the truth.  Those seeking to understand why Robert committed the actions form one side saw that Comyn’s death was a deliberate and was the first action the path to the throne. In England results of the investigation of the murder is played out much different than the results from Scotland. In England the cause was that Comyn was killed because “he would not assent to treason and that Bruce planned against the king of England, it is believed.” In English chronicles of the period, Bruce lured Comyn to Dumfries to kill him this would mean that he had the plan to kill him from the start. In Scottish accounts, by contrast, Bruce and Comyn agreed to work together for Scotland’s freedom. Comyn, however, betrayed Bruce’s plans to Edward I and was killed in revenge for his treachery which is an accepted standard of practice for this time. (Robert, 2018) I made sure to keep my own prejudices in check because of what I believe should be detached. The bright a dark side of leadership traits covers a theory Socioanalytic theory, which means that there can be an interpersonal, meaning that it is rooted in two assumptions: “People always live (work) in groups, and groups are always structured in terms of status hierarchies.” (J. Hogan & Holland, 2003) this would mean that Robert as an individual could possess two primary motives this would be getting along trying to form a communion and or getting ahead pushing an agenda for himself and not the team. (J. Hogan & Holland, 2003) I feel that due to a succession crisis and the time Robert had first made the decision to follow his father. His father fought along side the king of England and Robert being the eldest of nine brothers had the responsibility to follow the decisions to honor his family even though he was against it. This is an example of the group working together and he understood where he fell in the hierarchy. After the death of his father and due to a chosen individual for the throne by the name of John Balliol, Robert was claimed as a guardian of Scotland. The original Robert the Bruce (grandfather) was the first to pay Edward homage; Balliol, seeing his kingship slipping away, followed suit later. (BBC Scotland’s History – The Wars of Independence, n.d.) This allowed for Edward to claim overlord to the country because he was the individual that put the king he wanted on the Scottish throne. This later enraged the people of Scotland and they looked to two men to correct it. They the people of Scotland, chose to sign an alliance with England’s enemy the French which was an act of war. Here is where Robert made his move to decided to start his plan to take the throne for himself and right the wrongs that have been done to people. He found his inspiration in those that had the same idealism as he did, those like William Wallace. Certain events like the capture and the execution of Wallace would soon turn against the Scottish people. In the politics of the Scottish Guardianship divided the country between, the Comyns, supporters of Balliol, this suspended the Bruce’s, who was faced with the decision to fight against the king of England. (BBC Scotland’s History – The Wars of Independence, n.d.) This is where I find that the actions of Bruce was justified because he truly felt that it was his right and responsibility to do so. Robert himself started another uprising to over throw Edward’s rule of the Scots. This is when he arranged the meeting with his rival that resulted with the killing of the head of the Comyn family. Once this act was committed he showed the people of Scotland that he would do anything to achieve his goal. As was stated prior in the ethics and community section this act came with a price. It was a devastating start to his rein he became outlawed, excommunicated and provoked a civil war with the supports of the Comyns family, Bruce was defeated during his first attempts of battles this caused him to flea to the Gaelic west. During his hiding he reflected on what he was to do to achieve his goal and changed tactics and started playing to win. Following the tactics of Wallace, he began to launch guerrilla warfare against his enemies in Scotland and this proved to be successful. (BBC Scotland’s History – The Wars of Independence, n.d.)

Results and my lessons learned.

I learned that Robert the Bruce and I have one similarity in leadership. It has been written that the phrase “if at first you don’t succeed try, try again” has been coined through his own trials. Yet I have not found definitive proof in this his actions speak otherwise. One characteristic that I have is I will never give up, I may not hit the mark on the first go but giving up is not an option for me. As I came up in the Marine Corps. I found out very early that Even if I think I’ve done all I can, I was wrong. Everyone has a dream, goal and motivation now this is my opinion that I can base on the observation of people around me. I think it just depends how far you’re willing to go to get what you want. Robert did the same exact thing, he had a goal to become king and liberate Scotland into their own country. Mine was to be the best Marine in my field and be a role model for every Marine that I train.  But how can I learn from Bruce’s story, his actions from the murder in a church to the liberation of his people so long ago and now in a totally different world? I would say I learned Robert the Bruce was a leader because he did not submit to defeat, he used his failures to fuel him to success, with almost nothing.  He did not follow but led from the front, the same actions that have been taught to me from my training in the Marines. With only his inner belief to guide him on his path to achievement. This was his greatest attributes are not to give up, an ability to take advantage of situations, and the charisma to persuade others that the impossible was possible too achieve. I personally wouldn’t commit murder to achieve what I want but he still has positive leadership style to follow. In other words, he taught me to have the guts to try, try, and try again failure is not an option. That is something that might inspire greatness in us all.


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  • Collins, J. C. (2009). How the mighty fall: And why some companies never give in. New York: Collins Business.
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