By Brian Darlington (co-author of IT WORKS) – First published here: 

My wife and I were spending a couple of days in Lisbon for a weekend away, planning to visit some of our favourite sites. Not being royalists, we were not that keen to spend the day watching the pompous ceremony of King Charles III’s coronation. However, as a descendant of generations of Coldstream Guards, and having a keen interest in military history, I wanted to at least watch the Guards proudly marching to Westminster Abbey prior to the start of the coronation, dressed in their red tunics with well-combed bearskins on their heads. 

Not wanting to have a late start from the hotel for our day of sightseeing, we headed off early through the streets of the city, with the plan of visiting several landmarks, including Saint George’s Castle that overlooks Lisbon, as well as the Monument of the Discoverers on the waterfront. The latter was erected in remembrance of explorers searching for new countries some centuries ago, including the Portuguese mariner Bartolomeu Dias, who rounded the Cape of Good Hope, becoming the first European to explore the coastline of South Africa in 1488.

Back in Lisbon, we eventually found a small coffee shop situated on one of the seven famous hills of the city that was televising the coronation, so we asked for one of their five tables and took our seats. The new plan was to have coffee and a couple of Pastel de Natas (Portuguese cream tarts) and then leave once the Guards were in their positions and the King and Queen had arrived at Westminster Abbey.

Well, it was, as always for me, a thrilling experience watching the precision and discipline of the Guards as they marched and moved into place. I let my mind wander off to all my ancestors who held similar roles in previous centuries. I was hooked, and as a result we decided to stay where we were to watch the full coronation, eventually ordering lunch followed by good Portuguese sardines and red wine. The castle and other memorials would have to be put on hold until our next visit to Lisbon, but it was worth it in the end.

As we watched the ceremony, it was clear to us that we were experiencing an abundance of myths, rituals, semiotics, symbols, and icons, as well as many gestures. As students of Social Psychology of Risk, we knew we were in for one hell of a day full of personal as well as embodied feelings.


Throughout the coronation there were several rituals and related myths that took place, with numerous ancient artifacts and symbols used during the ceremony. Tens of millions of people from around the world watched as the rituals, artifacts, and symbols were used, not forgetting the myths connected to many of them.

I will not list them all, however we observed the King and Queen being transported to the ceremony in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, which is built from numerous artifacts – including timber from various castles and battleships like Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory – obviously each with its own bit of history. The King arrived at Westminster Abbey, a place of huge significance, as it has borne witness to all coronations since that of William the Conqueror back in 1066. During the coronation, the King touched and held several ancient artifacts, including the sceptre, Coronation Bible, and swords. An ancient spoon and an ampulla filled with holy oil were used to anoint the King. All these artifacts held some kind of significance and were related to myths.

Sitting on the Coronation Chair, which was built in around 1300 to house the Destiny Stone (a symbol of Scotland’s monarchy), the King fitted a glove on his right hand, with the significance that he should always treat others with care. Both the King and Queen were crowned with crowns donned by previous kings and queens.

Leaders, as well as those employed in the risk and safety field, very seldom reflect on things of significance in the workplace or the power of various myths and symbols that we have created. Be it the symbolic meaning of the logos and posters on the walls, the trophies in the cabinets, or the myths of the mantras used, we forget or even fail to understand that everything in life has significance. Many of our myths, rituals, semiotics, symbols, icons, and gestures contribute to the development of our company culture – either positively or negatively.

A week prior to authoring this article, I published a blog on LinkedIn related to the myth of Zero Harm, and attached a photo of related graffiti from my book Humanising Leadership. There were many people who gave the post a thumbs up, some agreed with me, and one even warned me about the dangers of telling the truth. And then there were two who criticised not only my belief that Zero Harm is impossible, but to some degree criticised me personally. No wonder many people in the workplace do not speak up.

This is a typical example of the strength and significance of semiotics, icons, and myths, and how they communicate with our subconscious. I guess those critics might make their money as consultants selling the myth of Zero Harm.

When writing articles, I always look at the three elements of Social Psychology of Risk – Workspace, Headspace, and Groupspace – and compare these to business and our role as leaders.


There were many workspace elements in place throughout the day: signs, flags from Commonwealth countries, police in place, rules to be followed, barricades, and crowd control. Those in the ceremony were given hymn sheets to sing from and the day’s events all followed a strict protocol and agenda.

This is all remarkably similar to the Workspace controls in companies across all industries – controls that are needed. Industry also has its flags, banners, risk assessments, safe work procedures, toolbox talks (industrial hymn sheets), and safety advisors (sometimes called officers) ensuring things run as planned or are perceived as planned.

However – and unfortunately – too often leaders’ focus, attention, and time are given solely to the controls and not enough to the Headspace (psychological) and Groupspace (cultural) elements. Having only controls does not create trust. Neither does it develop the desired culture and sub-cultures; there needs to be a balance between all three elements.


The Headspace or psychological side of things was also significant during the coronation. You could see the stress and strain on the faces of the King and Queen throughout the ceremony – very few smiles from the two of them. The King was probably at times consciously thinking about his mother and grandfather, who had gone through the same rituals and gestures decades before. There was the proud and emotional moment when he held the hands of his son and received a kiss on the cheek from the heir to the throne. 

In the workplace, we as leaders tend to ignore Headspace elements, not realising how some of our decisions, mantras, signs, and symbols impact the conscious and subconscious minds of teams and individuals. Leaders often do not think of the spin-offs of the messages displayed on posters and communication boards, the words used in written or spoken communication, or the unspoken messages given by various gestures (both positive and negative).

I often refer to the typical “toolbox talk” or so-called “safety minute”, a ritual in the risk and safety industry that unfortunately, in many cases, adds little to no value. This ritual is one of telling others what to do, rather than engaging with the teams and ensuring learning as well as understanding. Holding an engagement session, in my view, adds more value than that ritual of the daily toolbox talk.

Consider the safety instructions given by crew members on your favourite airline. How many times do you listen to the message? I bet hardly ever, and the reason for this is that – like the tick box exercise of the repeated or boring toolbox safety talk – this is the same old message you’ve heard before.


There was so much Groupspace happening at the coronation. This ranged from those invited to participate in the ceremony to the invitation and issuing of medals to approximately 400 individuals who had given their time to various organisations and charities. 

The streets were lined with people from all walks of life, dressed in clothing displaying the Union Flag or pictures of the King and having the time of their lives. All of these people were feeling a sense of belonging to the country, the group, and the day’s celebrations. Protestors were out trying their best to disrupt the parade in a group of their own: a minority group, albeit containing one or two significant people.

The three children of the Prince and Princess of Wales were each wearing one of the colours of the Union Flag: red, white, and blue – a consideration of semiotics; all part of the semiosis of the day.

In the workplace, we experience this type of groupthink, where people feel part of or excluded from various groups. Most people want to belong to the group. They want to contribute, give their comments and recommendations, and most importantly be included in events, be it in the form of meetings, team events, or learning sessions.

As leaders, we need to include our teams in what we do, and give them a sense of belonging as well as the platform to contribute and have their views considered.

Culture is made up of numerous elements, not only what our performance looks like, what the numbers reflect, and whether we have no injuries for a period of time. I will not discuss the elements that contribute to cultures and sub-cultures (good or bad), but I will emphasise the importance of considering the person, alongside a humanising approach, in the development of the desired culture.

In the company for which I work, we include an orange stripe at the top of many of our operational buildings. This is probably not significant to some, but the colour communicates with our conscious and subconscious minds to develop the sense of belonging amongst our employees. This is no different to the flags present at the coronation or the colours of the outfits worn by the two young princes and the princess.


As mentioned at the start of this article, I was not too keen to watch the whole coronation. Watching the Guards marching to their positions, however, and the gestures involved, along with the explanation given by the presenters related to the significance of the signs, symbols, myths, and artifacts, led to us watching the full day’s events. The whole experience gave us an embodied feeling by communicating with all our senses. This left a huge impression on us, even though it means having to return to Lisbon in the future to see the places we were intending to visit; missing out on them on this occasion was money and time well spent.

As leaders, let’s not forget the significance and impact of myths, rituals, semiotics, symbols, and icons, as well as gestures, in the workplace.

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