William Shakespeare's Leadership Lesson: Crowns For Convoy

Posted by nick_niesen on October 26th, 2010

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As a leader, you'll inevitably be faced with people wanting to leave your team or organization. Learning how to deal successfully with the challenge is a vital skill that can have a major influence on your career. And one of the best ways of developing the skill comes from Shakespeare's Henry V.

The stirring speech of Shakespeare's Henry before the battle of Agincourt contains many leadership nuggets. But commentators who recount the speech usually overlook a particularly valuable one. They focus on the speech's "band of brothers" aspects but neglect the fact that Henry also said that if any of his soldiers would rather not fight, he'd give them passport and "crowns for convoy" back to England.

Henry was aware that some of his soldiers were reluctant to fight; for he led a rather bedraggled army. History recounts they had marched 260 miles in 17 days. They were short of food. They were drenched by two weeks of continuous rain. Many of them were suffering from dysentery contracted from drinking fetid pond water. And they were facing the flower of French knighthood, knights who were rested, better equipped and eager for battle. So there were probably many soldiers who wanted to avoid battle, get quickly to the coast and board ships for England.

Shakespeare has his Henry respond to these leadership challenges in a telling way. Instead of trying to cajole those who wanted to leave into remaining with him, or on the other hand, punish them, he did something much more effective: He actually offered them passports and money to go.

"Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company That fears his fellowship to die with us."

Now, apply this lesson to those people who tell you they want out. Their attitude may seem negative; but you have an opportunity to get positive results by reshaping your relationship with them in productive ways and boosting your leadership effectiveness with the people who remain.

Granted, if somebody wants out, your knee-jerk reaction may be to say, "Good riddance! Don't darken my door again." But let's examine this. When somebody wants to leave, two facts apply. One is that, clearly, that person - for whatever reason - is dissatisfied and is looking for satisfaction elsewhere. And two is that you have a relationship with the person. It might be a good relationship. It might be a bad relationship. But here's the point: You don't want to get the two facts mixed up in a bad way. Because that relationship will continue in one way or another even if you don't set eyes on each other again.

A bad relationship with an employee that left your organization can come back to haunt you in many unforeseen ways, such as poisoning your relationships with the people who remain behind.

Whether people want to leave because they want to or because you want them to, do this one thing: offer "crowns for convoy." In other words, give them the tangible means to depart. Put aside any rancor or frustration you may feel and become genuinely interested and actively involved in solving the problems associated with their leaving.

For instance, let the person take charge of their leaving. Help the person draw up an action plan of their own choosing that will facilitate their departure in the best way possible. Support those actions in precise ways ? as long as they are reasonable and won't harm your organization and the people who are remaining in it. Provide milestones and ways that you and the person can evaluate and monitor progress in carrying out the plan.

By having the person take charge, by showing good will, and lending concrete assistance, you'll be creating an opportunity to change your relationship with them. You'll set the stage for your working together in a positive way irrespective of whether you'll ever see eachother again. Thus you'll help mend bad feelings that might have otherwise grown unnecessarily worse.

CROWNS FOR CONVOY is all about giving people control of their leaving in an environment of free choice, action, helpfulness, and good will.

In doing so, you may transform a potentially bad situation into a beneficial one. And who knows? Maybe, like Henry, you may achieve an unexpected accomplishment.

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