For subscribers only

William Shakespeare's Leadership Lesson: Crowns for Convoy

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

“Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from collaborating with people we care about.” – Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

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

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

Henry knew some of his soldiers were reluctant to fight, for he led a somewhat 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 best of French knighthood, knights who were rested, better equipped, and eager for battle. So, many soldiers probably wanted to avoid conflict, get quickly to the coast, and board ships for England.

Shakespeare has Henry respond to these leadership challenges tellingly. Instead of trying to persuade those who wanted to leave into still being with him or punishing them, he did something much more effective: He 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 leave; 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 telling you they want out. Their attitude may seem negative, but you can get positive results by reshaping your relationship with them in productive ways and boosting your leadership effectiveness with the people who remain.

If somebody wants out, your automatic reaction may be to say, "Good riddance! Don't darken my door again." But let us 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 troubled relationship. But here is the point: You do not want to get the two facts mixed up poorly because that relationship will continue in one way or another even if you do not set eyes on each other again.

A troubled relationship with an employee who left your organization can come back to haunt you in unforeseen ways, such as poisoning your relationships with those who are still behind.

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

For instance, let the person take charge of their leaving. Help the person draw up an action plan that will ease their departure in the best way possible. Support those actions in precise ways if they are reasonable and will not harm your organization and the people still in it—supply milestones and ways that you and the person can evaluate and check progress in conducting the plan.

Having the person take charge, show goodwill, and lend concrete aid will create an opportunity to change your relationship with them. You will set the stage for your work together positively, irrespective of whether you will ever see each other again. Thus, you will help mend bad feelings that might have grown unnecessarily worse.

Subscriber content only

To access this content and all of our unlimited content subscribe now