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Robert Bruner

Robert Bruner

Robert F. Bruner is the Dean of the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia, and author of a blog and several books, including The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market's Perfect Storm.

Will They Come When You Call? Shakespeare's Leadership Challenge

Glendower: I can call the spirits from the vasty deep.

Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?

-- William Shakespeare, Henry the Fourth, Part One

Very few writers beat Shakespeare in provoking reflections on leadership. His plays about the youth and reign of King Henry the Fifth are loaded with lessons relevant to the development of business leaders. In the exchange above, for example, two rebels are forming an alliance against King Henry the Fourth. The first, Glendower, claims to have supernatural powers, on which basis the rebellion is sure to win. His companion Hotspur, however, has his doubts.

While Glendower speaks of calling spirits from the netherworld, Hotspur speaks more practically of communicating with men and calling forth their efforts. On this brief exchange the play hinges: What does it take to rally one's followers? As things turn out, King Henry the Fourth is able to marshal his followers better than these rebels. In suppressing their rebellion, he is able to turn the monarchy over to his son, Henry the Fifth, who is transformed by the conflict from a callow youth into a serious leader.

"Will they come when you do call for them?" This question is timely for executives whose organizations are battered by the current economic recession. This is a moment when organizations need to re-invent themselves by shedding unworthy projects and ineffective processes -- but to change the way an organization does business requires buy-in from the ranks. Just ask executives at General Motors and Chrysler.

My research on why mergers fail shows that the inability of executives to bring their organizations along is an important contributor to failure. And the story of the Panic of 1907 shows that the ability of a leader like J. P. Morgan to organize collective action can be decisive in stemming a financial crisis.

What does it take for them to come when you call? Certainly it includes three big factors, all of which are well illustrated by today's headlines:

Moral authority: This is the conviction among followers that their leader will do the right thing in the right way. The recent rash of sex scandals among politicians illustrates well how rapidly the conviction of trust evaporates when followers question the ability or willingness of the leader to do the right thing. Allegations ranging from corruption to prostitution, for example, recently drove Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's approval rating below 50 percent.

A credible plan and vision: The world has been crying for a coordinated response among nations to the financial crisis. With the Anglo-American framework of global finance in bad order, we have many proposals for the new world order from the likes of China, France, Germany, Russia, and even Venezuela. But merely advancing a plan is no proof of its effectiveness. So far, it is not clear that any of the proposals will do much to alter the current state of things.

Good communication: Followers need to hear the plan and vision in compelling ways. In the last century, Winston Churchill ("blood, toil, tears, and sweat"), Franklin D. Roosevelt ("nothing to fear but fear itself") and Ronald Reagan ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!") used the power of media and the spoken word to communicate an emotional rallying-cry in the face of overwhelming odds. Today, Twitter and YouTube have proved enormously influential in mustering street demonstrations in Iran on behalf of the defeated presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi.

Not on my list are power and compulsion. Adherents of Machiavelli will say that followers come when you call for them if you order them to do so and penalize them for failing to respond--after all, Kim Jong-Il seems to get large turnouts in North Korea. That may work in authoritarian settings, but is doomed to fail where followers have any choice. Most businesses are like large volunteer organizations: The best employees have lots of alternatives. The task of the leader is to win their hearts and minds to rally around a common vision.

"Will they come when you do call for them?" This may be one of the most serious tests of leadership. How you understand the test depends in part on your definition of leadership.

One can define leadership in terms of the competencies of a leader: wide-angle vision, social intelligence, excellent communication skills, bias for action, and so on. Educators like this kind of definition because it helps them aim for qualities to develop in students. But an alternative way of thinking about leadership is to focus on outcomes or impact. As the saying goes, "Turn around and look behind you...if anyone is following you, you're a leader." Quite simply, can you get followers to follow?

An important challenge facing business schools today is to rise above merely imparting tradecraft ("know what") and instead to develop leaders who can make a difference in the world ("know how"). Such know-how should embrace the three factors of moral authority, planning, and good communication. It is not sufficient to place a call to the spirits from the vasty deep. One needs to know how to get them to come.

From the On Leadership editor: For more on Shakespeare and leadership, WATCH:

Henry V's legendary St. Crispin's Day Speech and Battlefield Lessons from Agincourt

By Robert Bruner

 |  July 21, 2009; 2:38 PM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Funny how conservatives or Republicans accuse Obama of being a false prophet when they followed and forced the rest of Americans to follow the likes of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Richard Cheney who led America into the current situation of miseries resulting from their economic and foreign policies. Adolf Hitler had mastered the pretenses of the three qualities mentioned by the author, too, but we all know what his charismatic leadership did to Europe and America, in the end. When people place more importance on form than substance of leadership, they set themselves up for being led by pied pipers or charlatans, as history of mankind has shown repeatedly. To elitists like Bruner, apparently the world must be no more than a big stage for Shakespearian plays to be watched with enjoyment. Alas, the rest of us are merely the unwilling actors on it.

Posted by: TalkingHead1 | July 27, 2009 8:23 AM
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Any of them that will take the vow to uphold the very foundation as like the one that keep's free people Free and is the frist line in national defense it is Self defense The righ to keep arms....

And does not needs to be kicked out for Not up holding there vows...

Like the NAtive American that Said Sorry I can find his name.!
Great Men Like Great Nations are only as great as the words they Keeps..

Posted by: WindSong | July 26, 2009 10:08 PM
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Which government presently provides for the immediate removal from office of its elected officials?

As far as I know it is the USA and they need to start it with Obama's groupys...

Any of them that will take the vow to uphold the very foundation as like the one that keep's free people Free and is the frist line in national defense it is Self defense The righ to keep arms....

He and any one that follows his ways are traitors ! an dictaitors an socialist Nationalist Just like hitler was. Obama and his Leadership does not up hold Life God Family an or country good leadership would never say lets kill unborn Babies for a pay check Ever...any one that would agree with him is in my view is spine-less and gut-less.

Term Limits, Free speech, Voluntary Taxes, and Gun Rights keeps goverment Smaller and More an Honest...

Keep up the great work Rush Limbaugh I am looking for ward to lesson to you Come Monday...oh yes Dave Rasmey Common Sence on lone from the Great I am. an Go NRA !

Posted by: WindSong | July 26, 2009 10:04 PM
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A good leader works with other leaders to the benefit of her/his followers. When leaders agree that watching out for their people's benefit is their only right to power, working justly with other leaders to ensure that one group doesn't disadvantage other groups maintains peace. If a leader doesn't benefit his own followers because he has unjustly encroached on another group and thereby endangered his own people, then the leader has no reason, nor right, to lead.

If a people is suffering under a leader, then that leader should immediately be supplanted. The people give the governship to the leader, not the other way around.

Which government presently provides for the immediate removal from office of its elected officials?

Posted by: mcleangirl | July 26, 2009 7:34 PM
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Mr. Jay

I really like the last things you used much of the heart of those that Bleeded and cryed with pryaers of faith all they did would not be done invain.

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, established justice, to ensure domestic tranquility, provid-ed for the common defense, promot-ed the general welfare, to secure the blessings, of our liberty,too ourselves and our posterity, to Ordain and establish this Constitution..."

The one I like the best is the facts of what I think Fredrick Douglass and Abraham lincoln used to understand fully Book Of Mathew and the Verses around the The words of Jesus about accoutalbity...I think they thought it could aply with leader ship amoung a free self governing people. Mathew 18:15 with the thoughts to recover them.

The words around the term Sanctum Mcgallium and the US Title 42 USC Section 1983. It helps keep kings and Dictaitors from coming to power ruling with out acountablity from any one. To in some way insure we a nation would never have such a war the civil war again.

Term Limit's, Free speech, Voluntary Taxes, and Self Defense Gun Right's, Keeps Goverment's small and more honest...

God Country Family Core (Defense)
live free or dig your self a DEEP hole
Faith with out Just action is a with less faith

Rush Is right Dave Ramsey to...

oh yes Miss Palin I am praying for you,,keep the faith and wait On Yahveh for the answers you seek. Reminder Prayer is the key to the door way of truth reflection can show us what not to do again.

Miss Palin May the Blessing of the Great I am be with you In yeshua's Name.

Posted by: WindSong | July 26, 2009 2:07 PM
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We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, established justice, to ensure domestic tranquility, provid-ed for the common defense, promot-ed the general welfare, to secure the blessings, of our liberty,too ourselves and our posterity, to Ordain and establish this Constitution...

King sent an emissary bearing gifts, a brother.
It was the saddest thing, in meetings,(brothers)looked at me and all I said was, "speak your mind" they'll fire me, before any of you.

I had to execute my brother's charge in front of everyone. That's a hard thing. And gave me even more bitterness towards leadership.

This forced 2 additional actions, in open settings with the local noble and the Monarchy(mobilizing).

to be continued...maybe


Posted by: James210 | July 26, 2009 8:28 AM
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I like this. Thank you. I'm saving a copy.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | July 25, 2009 5:02 PM
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She didn't have a big cheering section, but if she is happy now that's just perfect. The troops are busy and things need weeded, so gotta go. Ordinary life calls.

Posted by: Dermitt | July 25, 2009 1:43 PM
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If those pesky workers refuse to follow the latest management fad (because they can see right through it,) just "right-size" them in the middle of a recession. That'll teach them to have opinions.

Posted by: swmuva | July 25, 2009 12:18 PM
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Soldier looks forward, never behind.
This is just an opinion but, if a leader has to look back, he's not leading.

A poem I wrote on writing.com look up User Name (Nauck)

People and a Nation

Leader ship works like Man an Wife
Walk not be hind me I may not lead you rightly...walk not in frount of me I may not follow just-ly walk be side me may we seek the path of truth together. through prayer and reflection, prayer is the key to the door way of truth and all wisdom.

I am sorry I dis-agree with you about not looking back...if leadership fail's to reflect they will forget the mercy of the Mistakes made and will with out a dout Make the same Mistakes all over again...

Hitler was about socialism and nationalism and police dictaitor ship's and killing unborn babies for a pay check as a matter of convenance......for popluation Control!

Obama as a chld of God we are the same, as for his leaders hip he is not lessoning.

Semper fi
God Country Family Core (Defense)

Term Limits ,free speech,Voluntary Taxes, and Gun right's Self defense Keeps goverment Small and Honest.

Posted by: WindSong | July 25, 2009 11:19 AM
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"Great men like great nations are only as great as the words they Keep."

I missed spelled "Only"

Posted by: WindSong | July 25, 2009 11:00 AM
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Washington Post this was good, They are a great many works of words that have been spoken by a great many leaders...

One I have really come to hold im My heart comes from the Native Americans..I just have not been able to find His name after reading it..

"Great men like great nations are on as great as the words they Keep."

From the Book Black Elk Speaks the understanding that No good leader will ever ask any thing he or she is not willing an or able to do them self and or Live above the ones they are to leading...

and then the great words to guied us to a Free people and Whole Some Goverment...

To be able to live free with out fear of it to be sercure in ones self and home...with the right to defend it With arms if Need Be.

Yeshua's Words that the founding father's understood...

I did not come to Condemm the world but to be a Way....Mercy love for giveness...

Semper Fi
God Country Family Core (Defense)
Live free or dig your self a deep hole
Faith with out a Just Action is a worthless faith

Posted by: WindSong | July 25, 2009 10:57 AM
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Common soldier (business)says,
1. Ask forgivness before striking( non-business tactic) your King or Company.

2. Not to expect alliances, with spirits or anyone else.

3. Expect betrayal by the closest.

4. Always place the people and Kingdom(company) before yourself. Never the Leaders.

And if the action just, the action is successful.

Soldier looks forward, never behind.

This is just an opinion but, if a leader has to look back, he's not leading.


Posted by: James210 | July 22, 2009 7:39 AM
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