By Richard Olivier
ISBN 1 904298 214
To survive businesses need leaders who are creative, imaginative, flexible, adaptable, effective communicators, visionaries and embracers of change.
Using Shakespeare’s Henry V as his starting point, Richard Olivier unpicks what this means in today’s uncertain world. He does so by holding the play up a mirror for leaders to reflect on the relationship between thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
Henry V, he believes, was written as the myth of a leader facing tough decisions and personal challenge who becomes great as he experiences power and responsibility. He adds Shakespeare is still loved today because his plays touch consistently on the truth of human experience
Throughout the plot – in both the famous speeches and subtle incidents - Olivier finds invaluable insights into leadership as Henry unites a disparate group of leaders around a common goal and together they overcome all difficulties in their path, achieving a near impossible victory.
Listen to Olivier explaining the play’s relevance to organisations today:?“The new leader will be both inspired and inspiring. They will be able to find and hold a vision while enthusing others to share that vision. They will be able to manage chaos and complexity while instilling enough stability to ensure smooth daily operations. They will be able to change direction at the drop of a hat from one imagined future to another without losing the support of stakeholders. And they will be able to manage creatively the emotional impact of constant change.”
In the play Olivier uncovers the journey all successful leaders take when introducing change. It begins in Act One with building consensus around a vision of a better future and then being visible in our personal commitment. Henry spends time assessing his past and his reputation among the nobles whose support he needs, before presenting his vision - invading France.
Next, in Act Two, Henry identifies the internal and external traitors who will get in his way and deals with them appropriately; some are old friends. He faces his feelings of betrayal so he can deliver objective judgements.
First steps into France, in Act Three, seem a reasonable plan. However, things get stuck and Henry makes his passionate ‘once more into the breach’ speech, painting pictures that rally his troops and deliver an initial victory. This is followed by a strategic withdrawal as the original vision no longer seems possible.
Act Four finds Henry entering a dark night of the soul and confronting his inner fears and uncertainties before deciding the way forward. He listens to his nobles’ and troops’ doubts also – in disguise - and this allows him to connect with his core motivation. He is then able to take a tough decision and live with the consequences.
In Act Five Henry’s thoughts turn to peace after the battle and nurturing the new territory he has won. He must take off his armour and build lasting relationships with his new subjects or the victory will lose its meaning.
As he journeys through each situation Henry uses four archetypal energies – static and dynamic, feminine and masculine – as inner resources to achieve his vision. The Medicine Woman (dynamic feminine) allows him access to the imagination and capacity to vision the future. The Good King (static masculine) teaches him how to access the past and allocate resources.
The Warrior (dynamic masculine) gives him the edge needed to deal with traitors, make tactical battlefield decisions and inspire the troops. The Great Mother (static feminine) allows him to survive the dark night of the soul and turn the battlefield into a garden.
Olivier says we each have preferences for these characters, the best leaders recognise and can use each of them when needed in the situations they face. Throughout the book he explains how to do so and shares examples of business leaders who have done so.
This is a fabulous book for anyone who loves Shakespeare, Jung, poetry, or who wants a new perspective on leadership in practice. No prior knowledge of Shakespeare or the play are needed.