Henry V and the challenge of executive behaviour change
Getting executives to change behaviour is a challenge – often requiring to get them to view themselves through a completely different lens, doing something that appears to be completely unrelated to their ‘normal lives’.
Tapping into the respect and depth that Shakespeare’s plays offer enables executives to both explore their and others behaviour and interactions through the extraordinary insight Shakespeare displays. Leaders can reflect their own challenges and development objectives onto the story and are led on an experiential journey through the 'case study'. Nicholas Janni, Co-Founder of Olivier Mythodrama, explores how this can work…
As a young man, Henry spent much of his time carousing in the taverns of fifteenth century East London with Falstaff and a crowd of dubious characters.
On his way to be crowned at the end of "Henry IV part 2" he seizes an opportunity for high impact symbolic communication by publicly distancing himself from his ex-best friend:
"I know thee not old man, fall to thy prayers.
Presume not that I am the thing I was"
Early in Act 1 of “Henry V” The Archbishop of Canterbury expresses the understandable relief felt by Henry’s senior team. In trying to understand how or why Henry has changed, he says that when his father died:
"Consideration like an angel came
And whipped the offending Adam out of him."
We understand from this that Henry experienced some kind of wake-up call, that he found some kind of meaning or calling that helped him step literally and psychologically out of his previous life and into the responsibility of leadership.
He became less interested in 'the offending Adam" - self-interest - and more interested in 'consideration' – from the Latin root, meaning ‘to think with and on behalf of others.’
This gives rich food for thought and prompts us to ask three vital questions of senior leaders:
1) What have been key moments when "the angel of consideration" has visited you, and you have realised something important about your inner or outer life?
Such moments arise in many different ways - a late night conversation, contemplative time alone, in a coaching session, or through challenging life events to name but a few. As the American poet William Stafford said: "Sometimes the truth depends on a walk around the lake."
A couple of years ago I coached a very successful Israeli executive. He told me that for his 30th birthday he went away on a walking trip to the Himalayas. There was one particular moment, looking at a breathtaking mountain view, when "the angel of consideration" visited him, and he realised how out of balance his life was. He returned and made the necessary changes. I met him again recently when he had just celebrated his 40th birthday with a tough ten-day walk in Peru. No big revelations this time, but some important inner recovery after a difficult divorce. So much so that he has now committed to an annual trek to ensure this quality of reflection time.
Many executives I have coached speak of how they appreciate transatlantic flights. They are one of the only times they can really step back and listen to the inner dialogue and promptings, the whispers of the Angel of Consideration.
2) What are your core values? What is your "sense of purpose"? What is it that gives you most meaning in your life?
If a leader doesn’t know what has come to be called their “Point North”, why should anyone follow or trust them? Sometimes the important first step here is acknowledging the loss or absence of such a point, not always easy in a culture where “I don’t know” feels unacceptable.
3) To what extent do these values overlap with your job? How much are you able to show up, at least sometimes, with genuine passion for the mission?
How else will you really engage people, which leads us to::
The challenge of Inspirational Communication
If the above are important inner questions, Act 1 of the story also produces a clear communication challenge for our young leader. For once Henry has become sufficiently aligned within himself, and the overall outer target has been clearly set - in this case the invasion of France - he must find the way to inspire his team, and the 'organisation' (England PLC) as a whole. He needs their fullest buy in to maximise the chances of success.
This requires him to go to go beyond talking about numbers, strategies, and targets, to turn off the PowerPoint…. If he wants to create a truly engaged culture, he has to remember that information alone is not and never will be inspiration.
At some point a leader has to SHOW UP, which means to communicate with a degree of deep authenticity. Why do you care about this? What's the bigger picture? Why is this worthwhile? Why should we care?
Corporate language can be a horrible thing. As Dame Anita Roddick once said: “The language of business is not the language of soul or the language of humanity… It’s the language of indifference, it’s the language of separation, of secrecy, of hierarchy… it separates us from who we are…”
When we coach leaders to achieve this kind of communication, there is a threshold moment, often characterised initially by fear, and then by them daring to use the simple word 'I'. When this 'I' is genuinely connected to a deeper inner truth, the difference in impact is indeed dramatic. It's like moving from a foggy, bland grey to full Technicolor. The voice becomes more resonant, the body comes alive, and everyone in the room suddenly pays attention in a different way. Suddenly a human being is present; suddenly we actually want to listen to this person.
We might even want to follow them .....
Nicholas Janni is a co-founder of Olivier Mythodrama. Mythodrama is a unique combination of storytelling, drama, poetry, presentation skills, coaching, theatre rehearsal techniques, OD practices, psychology and philosophical enquiry. Olivier Mythodrama have been delivering their leadership seminars to senior executives worldwide since 2001. Clients include Lafarge, FedEx, Daimler, McDonald’s, Rolls-Royce, Sanofi Aventis, Insead and Saïd Business School.
Learn about Olivier Mythodrama www.oliviermythodrama.com