Classic Leadership Wisdom from Henry V

Motivation is a perennial hot topic for leaders. There are 2,617 books on Amazon.com in the category of “Motivational Management and Leadership” and 222 specifically about motivating employees. Before you read any of those books, however, I’d suggest a small bit of Shakespeare — namely, King Henry’s “Saint Crispian’s Day” speech from the play Henry V. In just 37 lines, it says more than most leadership books about how to motivate and engage a team.

The scene is the field of Agincourt, in France. As they prepare for battle, the English troops are on the verge of mutinous despair, facing an army that outnumbers them twenty to one. “If only there were more of us,” they mutter. But after Henry’s brief words, they would rather be nowhere else and with not a man more. Here’s how Henry transforms the situation:

This day is called the Feast of Crispian:

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named,

And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall see this day, and live old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors

And say, “Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.”

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,

And say, “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,

But he’ll remember, with advantages,

What feats he did that day …

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered–

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers …

And gentlemen in England, now abed,

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here;

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispian’s day.

–Shakespeare, Henry V (Act IV, scene iii)

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About Jocelyn R Davis

Jocelyn Davis is Principal of Seven Learning, a leadership development firm that creates a lasting lift in leaders' effectiveness using classic books, films, and stories.
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