What’s not to love about a stirring speech in a movie. The one where all hope is lost, there’s a rag tag group left and the leader delivers an powerful call to arms that spurs everyone on against the odds. Think William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) in Braveheart “tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” or my personal favourite, Kenneth Branagh playing Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry V spurring the hopelessly outnumbered English troops on against the French in the battle of Agincourt “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” It’s known as the St Crispin’s Day Speech, look it up on YouTube, even I’d be convinced to fight.
Whether or not it’s a stretch to compare the workplace to a battlefield or a blockbuster movie there are certainly times in your career where you’ve been faced with seemingly impossible odds to get a project done on time, or to survive a downturn in the market, or to know which direction to take the company. Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve been upfront with your team about the situation, you’ve admitted you don’t have all the answers and you’ve asked them for input. But still a decision must be made. There’s no perfect answer and it could all go wrong.
At a recent leadership program (see my previous post ‘Want real Feedback? Here’s How’) our team was faced with this exact situation. We were two hours into a complex exercise, several members of another team were either ill or injured and their uninjured members were joined with our team, it was our leader’s first time leading on the course, it was late at night after a long day and, due to assumptions we made earlier about the exercise, we felt we were hopelessly off course.
Sitting in the dark in unfamiliar surrounds our leader sought input from the team. Did anyone have a view on the best next steps? Plenty of opinions. Keep going. Backtrack. Try another route. None of them seemed any more viable than the others. The new team members didn’t know our team well. To get this right meant we got some sleep; getting it wrong meant none, and a chilly night in the Kimberley. Real consequences, just like the workplace. Spirits were not high.
At our lowest point our leader stood up. I can’t recall exactly what she said but she acknowledged that it was late, that there was uncertainty but given all the information she felt on balance we should keep on the path we planned. It might be the right direction, or the wrong direction but if we’re going to do this let’s have fun doing it. It was delivered loudly and with conviction. At that moment the spirits of the team lifted and we walked on happily and with purpose.
It may not have been the Battle of Agincourt, but it was our leader’s own St Crispin’s Day speech, and it was brilliant. We eventually got through the exercise, but whether we did or not the team’s morale would have been high because at the exact moment we needed it our leader made a clear decision and provided us with the inspiration to go on.
In the workplace, you will be faced with hurdles like this, with real consequences. Once you’ve gathered information as best you can don’t hide in your office. Go to your team, be vulnerable enough to admit you may or may not have it right, make a decision and work out what will inspire them to work towards the best option you have. If you’re right, awesome. If not, at the very least you will have an inspired high morale team who will learn from failure alongside you.
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen no a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day.”
Henry V Act 4, Scene 3 The English Camp