Many people across the world today enjoy the luxury of wearing signet rings as part of their jewellery items but most of us don’t know how this piece of jewellery once had a very powerful purpose in history.

Allow me to share a brief history on the signet ring as documented by The Regency Redingote blog and the History1700 website. The signet ring was widely used by Kings, rulers and religious leaders as a symbol on documents or a seal on a doorway. When someone saw the mark of the King, it proved authenticity ( This was long before the art of writing was widespread and it was still necessary to mark royal proclamations and legal documents to authenticate correspondence. Because these emblems were a symbol of the power and authority of their owner, and because they were indispensable to commerce they were most often made a ring. In this form, the owner could keep his identifying symbol safely under his control and readily available on his finger. Signet rings also became the practice to hand the signet ring down from father to son, through the generations. There were also occasions when a signet ring had to be destroyed after the death of its owner to ensure the authority it represented was terminated. Another interesting factor was that the person wearing the ring was free to wear his signet ring on any hand or finger which suited him, or on which it would fit. The only important point was that he wore it (

I started wondering what would happen if a King or a Ruler was captured or conquered by another nation and had his hands and feet chained. In that context, I presume that the signet ring was ineffective but, I stand to be corrected. It’s sad right that such an elaborate and powerful symbol could be rendered ineffective if one was chained.

When I relate this back in our own modern context I often think that one of the most crippling things that I have witnessed and have gone through myself is having a great title but no authority. The danger of having a title without authority is that it renders you ineffective. You are unable to implement new things; your creativity is stifled and you constantly live in fear of what your superior will say. Sometimes you observe your superior making grave mistakes and according to the description on paper of your title you are allowed to challenge that, but in reality, you hold no authority. I don’t ever want to be in that situation in my life and I never want anyone to experience that.

I read the following words in a book I was reading recently and these words were said by the legendary Nelson Mandela as a warning to his successor Thabo Mbeki. He said “One of the temptations of a leader who has been elected unopposed is that he may use his powerful position to settle scores with his detractors, marginalise them and in certain cases get rid of them and surround himself with yes-men and yes-women”  (Extract taken from God, Spies and Lies page 391-392). Oh, how I wish the current leaders in our democracy will hearken to the advice of this great leader.

We must be careful as leaders in every faction that we don’t raise a generation of distinguished intellectuals who will just be yes Sir and yes Ma’am followers. I love what Steve Jobs once said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” If you are in a position where you lead people, please ensure that their titles carry weight i.e. they are empowered to make decisions without fear.

An even graver mistake is when leaders give authority to foolish people but that’s a story for another day, my friend.