What a time we're in. The economy stinks. Business is terrible. Every day, the news and the numbers are worse. Your employees are concerned -- no, make that frightened -- about their futures.
Times like these are the ultimate test of leadership. When things are good, any windbag can "lead." But tough times separate the leadership wheat from the chaff. How will you respond?
Will you pass the Henry V Leadership Test?
Flash back to 1415. Henry and his army were in France. He was after land, glory, and honor. At first, things went well. Then they went bad.
On a soggy morning in October, he and his exhausted men faced tens of thousands of French soldiers, well armed, fresh, and ready to fight. The English were outnumbered three to one. Henry and his soldiers were about to die. And they knew it.
What did Henry do on the morning of this huge, pivotal battle? He spoke. He put language to work.
When he spoke, did Henry give, as they say in B-school, a "realistic assessment of the problem?" What was the point in that? Everybody knew the shape of reality. Very bad.
Did Henry tell them that everything was going to turn out well? No. In fact, he told his men they might well die that day.
Henry passed the ultimate test because he had that most basic of leadership skills. He lifted their hearts.
Now is the time to lift hearts in your organization. Think long and hard about what is making hearts heavy. Pull together your most thoughtful people for their advice and counsel. Put a really strong speechwriter on it.
There's no one-size-fits-all message -- no template to follow. Your message will come out of your situation, your brain, and most of all, your heart.
Work on your message as if the very future of your organization depends on it. Because it does.
Words matter. Words turn the frightened into the brave. Words change history. Five centuries ago, for Henry and his men, words were likely the difference between living and dying.
Speak to your employees and your stakeholders. Ditch the usual bafflegab. Get down to basics. Be the truth teller. Above all, lift their hearts.
(Listen and watch as Kenneth Branagh says the words.)
© 2009 Pete Ryckman