Shakespeare's Tough Lessons on Leadership

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.
  • 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.