Nancy Koehn
Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
01:04

Shakespeare's Tough Lessons on Leadership

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How does a leader decide whether to be lenient or to set an example? Nancy Koehn presents this question by drawing from a harrowing scene in Shakespeare's Henry V.

Nancy Koehn

Nancy F. Koehn, an authority on entrepreneurial history, is the James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Koehn's research focuses on leading in turbulent times and the social and economic impact of entrepreneurship.

She is currently working on a book about the most important leadership lessons from Abraham Lincoln and another on social entrepreneurs.  Her upcoming book, The Story of American Business:  From the Pages of the New York Times (2009), sketches some of the most important people and moments from the last 150 years of U.S. business history.  Koehn's most recent book, Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers' Trust from Wedgwood to Dell (2001) examined six entrepreneurial visionaries who have created powerful brands and best-of-class companies in moments of great change.

Koehn consults with many companies on a range of issues including leadership development, effective brand stewardship, and customer relationship management.

Transcript

Nancy Koehn: Shakespeare’s leadership power is about all the teaching that his characters do by conscious, explicit example or by the way not to do it.  Think about the scene in Henry V where the King is on his way to Agincourt, and everyone’s sick and they’re way outnumbered and one of his old drinking buddies when he was Prince Hal, Bardoff, is caught stealing from a church.  And so Henry has to make this very interesting decision about what he’s going to do with his friend.  Is he going to let him off, as Pistol, one of his other drinking buddies is begging him to, or is he going to set an example as a leader of what people who violate the code of behavior do?  And he hangs him.  He decides to hang him.  But there the teaching is in the actual action, right?  And by virtue of you can’t mess with the mission, folks, or you’ll have to be sacrificed.  So the costs of violation are high.  And so you think about what that must have cost Henry V and how great his leap has been from the young prince, the hooligan, to the Warrior King, and there Shakespeare teaching by action and example, including negative examples.

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