Henry V and Leadership

The Chroniclers suggest that at Agincourt Henry V either grabbed his sword and shouted “follow me lads” or he gave an inspiring speech. As a writer, Shakespeare naturally chose the latter.

This is one of the most inspiring leadership speeches there is. It is worth analysing how Henry ensures all his team are committed, how he emphasises the team rather that the heroic leader, and how he uses a vision of the future to influence the present.

Worth 10 minutes to watch and think.


Succession for Law Firms Webinar 19th April

Many law firms have issues in creating a pipeline of fee earners with the appropriate skills, as well as a pipeline of leaders.

We are running a no-cost webinar on Tuesday 19th April 2016 at 5 pm. Access online or by phone.

To register via Eventbrite

NEW: Leadership Dashboard

Modern business is challenging, to say the least. The pace of change keeps accelerating, customers and staff span 4 generations with different expectations, and the competition always increases. Of course the only time to buy into new technology is either yesterday or tomorrow!

Sometimes it is easy to feel overwhelmed.

There is no silver bullet for today’s business realities, but there is a simple, powerful tool that can get you and your team grounded, and focused on what really matters.

Theone page Leader’s Dashboard captures eight key areas that every leader needs to consider. You can use this tool to stay focused on your most important priorities, as well as on your organization’s vision, mission, values, strategic edge, ways you will measure success, key business and professional relationships, and ongoing organizational and professional growth.

Now, for the first time, we offer a Virtual VIP Day on the Leader’s Dashboard. This enables you to concentrate on understanding and completing the dashboard over the course of a single day, rather than over a period of weeks.

To learn more about both the dashboard and the VIP Day, join one of our no-cost webinars on 7th, 10th or 11th August 2015. More details (and a leadership quiz) can be found here.

Control or Delegation – Battle of the Sambre

I was at the presentation of a paper at Birmingham University this week on the Battle of the Sambre on 4th to 6th November 1918. The battle is mainly remembered for the death of the poet Wilfred Owen.

The details of the battle are not important, except that the Germans were defending a canal, on both sides. The British needed to be able to cross the canal (Owen was killed in attempting to cross).

One interesting aside is that the Royal Engineers (being engineers) started to address the problem of crossing the canal some weeks before anyone else thought about the issue.

The canal crossing had mixed results. In part there was an element of German mistakes, combined with luck. Occupying both banks of the canal meant that the Germans had to be able to cross it themselves, so in some instances had left undefended plank bridges (while heavily defending the stone bridge further along). This allowed British infantry to cross almost unopposed in places. So always adapt a plan to circumstances, and to dumb luck.

Methods of crossing varied from rafts to collapsible boats to bridges. Even the bridges varied from wheeled light bridges to cross a narrow lock to hinged bridges which could be installed quickly to pontoon bridges which had to be bolted together in the water (and thus under fire).

One issue at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 was the attempt to make decisions at Corps level, when they were out of touch with the reality of the front line. At Sambre, General Braithwaite of XII Corps effectively told his divisional commanders “Here is your objective, you decide how to achieve it. Let me know what resources you need”.

The result was much more flexibility in the light of changing circumstances, but also more patchy execution. There was something of a silo mentality, so that captured materials were not shared between Divisions, nor were innovative ideas. Hence the method of bridging the canal varied significantly not only in their method, but in their speed, effectiveness and in their casualty rates.

So what can we learn? As always, delegate not abdicate. Be aware of the potential problems of delegation, as well as its benefits. Set up mechanisms to share best practice and avoid silo thinking, and use your authority as a leader to ensure that these mechanisms work.

Time for a Kick up the Rear?

For Welsh rugby supporters, the last few weeks have been (in the words of the old Chinese curse) interesting. Despite being the reigning champions, they were well beaten by Ireland, to the extent that they were never in the game. As always in these circumstances, it is difficult to assess if this was because they were so bad, or because Ireland were so good.

Come last Friday Wales beat France convincingly – highlights here for those in the UK. So what changed?

Among other things, coach Warren Gatland did two things. He accepted that the coaches should take some of the responsibility. At the same time, he spoke to individual players about their shortcomings, and made it clear that some players might not play again after the next match if performances did not improve.

Public comments by several players both before and after the game commended him for his honesty, and for his direct approach. And something certainly galvanised the team.

Can a carrot and stick approach work in the modern age? It appears so – but with caveats. First, Gatland, as a leader, has been in post since 2007, so he and the players know each other. Second, the players thought his comments justified, and indeed themselves picked apart the team performance behind closed doors. Lastly, he gave the players the chance to redeem themselves.

What this illustrates is that where both leader and team have integrity and trust, glossing over failure to meet required standards does not work whereas confronting it does.

Happy St Crispin’s Day – and Leadership Lessons

Happy St Crispin’s Day!

Probably the most famous event on the 25th October was the Battle of Agincourt. This is the speech that Shakespeare gave to Henry V before the battle. Great culture, and an even better demonstration of effective leadership. And surprisingly modern in selling a vision of what it will be like having won – not the immediate euphoria, but looking back and showing their scars with pride. Meanwhile those safe at home will think less of themselves.

I also spotted making limited resources a virtue, the “all in it together” appeal (peasant or king), and the appeal to the select nature of the group. How many techniques can you pick out?

The other battle on 25th October was that of Balaclava, best known for the Charge of the Light Brigade. The lessons from this?

1. Clear communication, so that subordinates know what they are expected to do (and do not charge up the wrong valley)

2. The virtue of doing the unexpected. The Brigade managed to capture the Russian guns they thought were their target, partly because the Russians could not quite believe it.

3. The importance of resources. If the Brigade had been reinforced where they were, the battle would have been different. Their losses largely occurred because they had to retreat from the valley, under fire from Russian batteries.

There is a third battle on this day, that of Leyte Gulf in 1944. No, nor me, but it was apparently the biggest naval battle ever.

Have a peaceful day.

The Erosion of Trust and Leadership

An interesting story in the Telegraph today, following a CIPD report on the erosion of trust in leaders. This obviously follows on from reported issues at Barclays and other major companies.

Startlingly, only 36% of those surveyed trust their senior management. This had a knock on effect on engagement, and the willingness to commit to the job.

Where I disagree with the interpretation is on its comparison to “command and control.” In my view, loyalty and trust are important components of performance even if the boss can have you shot. Otherwise, people will just do the minimum to avoid sanction.

It may just be that I am getting old, but there seems to be a general weakening of trust across society. Yet a functioning free society depends very much on trust.

If you are a leader, or aspire to be, you need to ask why your followers should trust you. Do you demonstrate integrity, or do you take advantage of people? Do you keep your word? Remember that it is easier to lose trust than to build it.