Markus Gull

Leading through story: Why your customer is not king, but you should be.

In the arsenal of slogans that every company has in front of it, "The customer is king!" is right at the top, ready to hand, right next to "For us, the focus is on people". - Are you still awake ...?

The customer is king ..." is often followed by an instructive "... and wants to be treated as such!" so that one thing is absolutely certain: we have definitely not understood what a king is, so we take the precaution of crawling up the asses of those whose money we want. In the horror of darkness that reigns there, we may not find what the legend says is waiting for us at the end of the rainbow, but at least it's warm in there.

We read our customers' every wish from their eyes.
We say yes & amen to everything.
After all, we live from our customers.

And as customers, we behave in exactly the same way.The golden rule applies:
He who has the gold makes the rules.
He who pays, creates.
After all, we are the customer and the customer is king.

Those who understand king in this way have not understood king, but confuse him with a ruler in the realm of arbitrariness. That cannot work.


In the blogcast, I read this recent blog article to you. With emphasis, of course!

A king rules, he does not reign.

A king (and, mutatis mutandis, a queen) differs most clearly from a ruler (and, mutatis mutandis, from a sovereign) in that kings protect their realm and their subjects and stand in unbreakable loyalty to their people. They are personal guarantors of security and continuity, their subjects can rely on everything always being done for the good of the realm and its inhabitants. In return, the peasants deliver the tithe. The goal of a true king is to create and maintain a flourishing, successful community, and he does this with responsibility, with the will to shape things and with leadership.

A ruler, on the other hand, decides on weal and woe according to his personal whim, above all for his own benefit; the kingdom belongs to him and its inhabitants are his property, his word is law, and he takes whatever he wants.

A ruler needs power, a king has authority.
A ruler stirs up fear, a king gives courage.
A ruler loves chaos, a king gives orientation.
A ruler relies on oppression, a king on growth.
A ruler wants to be courted, a king is polite.
Donald Trump, Barack Obama.

Because I just remembered: a little excursion into visual storytelling. Pete Souza was the house-and-court photographer of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. In his Instagram profile @petesouza and in his book "Shades - A Tale of Two Presidents" he uses pictures to depict the personalities of Trump and Obama in similar situations and exposes Trump again and again, almost without words, although his comments are also well worth reading. This is at times frightening, at other times unbelievably funny, but in any case a brilliant study in visual storytelling and a richly illustrated work on the difference between ruler and king.



King Customer - ruling with fear, or ruling at eye level? 

The common image of the customer as king therefore in fact and truth usually means nothing other than: The customer is omnipotent. If we don't do what he wants, then it's over with us. We fly high out of his kingdom, which in many cases looks like a shopping basket.

With a strong brand story, which is also lived, this question does not arise anyway, because then customer and brand meet each other on a completely different level: at eye level as like-minded people who have a common concern. The customer - or rather the audience - is the hero of this story, the brand his mentor on the way to the goal.

The Nike brand is a very good example of this interaction. Nike - looks like sporting goods, but feels like much more: namely, the chance for everyone to become a champion in their league if they just try. Nike supports this, summarised in the mantra Just do it. If this brand story is really lived seriously in and by the company, then the customer-is-king task does not even arise, it is solved as a matter of course before it even arises, because otherwise the brand story would not work at all, but would remain stupid advertising noise. People at the centre - you know ...

Hans Moser and a king with a time delay.


I understood what it meant to be a real king in my early youth when I "Mr Josef's last love" saw a 1950s black-and-white film with Hans Moser in the title role, in which the following happens: The old servant Josef spent his whole life in the house of the banker family Türkheim and so is now in the service of the young Mr. Türkheim (Wolf Albach-Retty) and his sister Gusti (Adrienne Gessner), both single. A dog runs to Mr Josef, the bitter vicious Gusti doesn't want the animal in the house and maltreats her brother until he tells Josef to give the dog away. But in a scene that touched me deeply, igniting a double hot spark of understanding in me, Josef leaves the Türkheims. The servant Josef bids farewell to his boss with the sentence: "Young master, you have broken faith with me."

First, I realised then that every story needs a theme, and the theme of this story is loyalty. Today, of course, we story insiders have long known that this is exactly what is really meant by story - whether in the personal, in literature or for companies and brands: a shared value that is at stake and for which we fight. In this case, it is loyalty, discussed and personified in the relational structure of servant, young master, dog and sister.

At the same time, I recognised the difference between king and ruler: the brother was - or then became in the course of history - a king, the sister remained a ruler.

Kings give dignity to subjects. 

In the Old Testament, the Book of Genesis says "subdue the earth", which we humans, in our apparently innate and unique mixture of stupidity, greed and ignorance, usually interpret as "plunder the earth, eat what you can get your teeth into and post it on Instagram beforehand" and want to follow the instructions of the Bible, at least in this misunderstood sentence, regardless of whether we otherwise believe in it or not. You mustn't see things so narrowly, right?

"Subdue the earth" - the sentence from the Bible's rich treasure trove of stories means, of course, "Man, be king of the earth. Protect it and use it, for it is entrusted to you." Is this perhaps even a hidden contribution to the arsenal of corporate slogans, in which one does not have to look far for "sustainability"?


Book tipsA ruler considers his subjects to be nothing more than objects that he can dispose of at will in his cosmos, like everything else. A king knows what dignity is and acts accordingly. To the keyword "Dignity" is what Professor Gerald Hüther wrote a wonderful book, which I would like to place once more at the disposal of all open hearts. Anyone who reads this book learns and understands a lot about themselves and then sees many things that happen every day with a brighter eye. For example, how quickly one degrades someone to an object, often subconsciously, and how quickly it happens to oneself - especially in dealing with children and in leading teams, as king in one's Little Kingdom.

Dignity is what makes us strong - as individuals and as a society, according to Prof. Hüther, and is thus closely related to the roots of story. Not least because Story in the wrong sense reeks of manipulation, i.e. of undignity, and in the right sense makes us strong and gives us support and orientation - as individuals and as a society.

In respectful communication and responsible handling of everything that a story can do, the dignity of the other person is an essential dimension worth protecting. This is especially true in our time, when NLP buffoons, seducers and muzzlers in their tailor-made suits of half-silk are conquering the political stages of this world with their narratives, framings and self-optimisation campaigns disguised as politics. What these amateur leaders lack is the empathy of a king, story and, yes, dignity.

King as leadership archetype.

In my toolbox and method box for story - in character development in my work as an author as well as in my work as a consulting companion for brands, companies and organisations - I always work with archetype models. This concept goes back to the work of the Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung, who first spoke about it in his dissertation in 1902. The ruler is one of his twelve archetypes and is also experienced in variants such as the king, the regent, the ambassador, the despot or the patriarch, depending on how they are expressed. Archetypes are not positive or negative per se, have a wide range of characteristics, must always be seen and understood in context, and develop a specific personality in every story - whether fiction or real life; they have a function and play a role. I have almost 90 archetype types in my toolbox and sometimes even combine them - e.g. The Lover & The Magician to The Caring Magician - because in practical work this allows for real-life richness of facets with a lot of potential for differentiation, but at the same time draws a strong, value-based and value-driven frame of orientation.

When I work with leaders - founders, CEOs, human resources managers, team leaders - the ruler is often pulled out of the deck in his or her version of the king/queen, often in the form of the patriarch in family businesses. When it comes to succession, it can be tricky, as you can imagine.

Kings lead with story. 

And by the way: kings in a positive sense are by no means weak, passive personalities, on the contrary: it takes much more strength to lift people than to knock them down. Not everyone can build up, any idiot can destroy.

King Arthur is a figure often cited in this context. The origin of the legend of the mythical king appears as early as 500 AD and is often associated with the wizard Merlin as his multi-faceted mentor figure, with Camelot Castle as a metaphor for the paradisiacal perfect world and with the Round Table established there as a symbol for the circle of the righteous, with the source of bliss and eternal youth, the Holy Grail at its centre. Camelot - a paradisiacal, ideal place in a chaotic world, which in recent history is repeatedly associated with the numerous legends surrounding the White House during the presidency of John F. Kennedy.

What leaders need - whether king, creator, mage, professor, warrior or otherwise - is a strong story, i.e. a set of values for which others can be inspired and thus all build a prosperous kingdom together. Camelot is everywhere.

This is especially true for the many people who are about to take the leap into self-employment. Founders, start-ups and the unicorns of the future know what is important in a business plan: numbers, data, facts. That's all well and good, but it only seems to lead to success. What really makes companies strong, right from the start, is their magnetic story, the power of their brand. Internally, externally, for investors and customers alike. It's all about the founding dream.

Customer King

By the way, there's a guy who wrote a little instigator book about this for big dreams and even bigger deeds. It's called: "Then do something. - Your dream. Your company. Your story." You can get it here.



Whether for a kingdom in the making, a global corporation, an SME or a heroic lone fighter as an EPU - every person, every brand, every company has and needs strong leaders, at least one archaic value and the story activated by it around which everything revolves. If you don't have a magnetic value as a living theme, you are left with only two leadership methods: raising salaries and issuing orders - carrot and stick. And that makes the future just another word for defeat.

So to all those who say, "It doesn't apply to me, my brand or my business!" I would urge those words that my grandmother, old Story Dudette, secretly carved into the table at her place in King Arthur's Round Table: "No Story. No Glory."


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