As a leader, you’ll inevitably be faced with people wanting to leave your team or organization. Dealing with the challenge is critical for your leadership success. Your response will have ramifications far beyond your immediate circumstances. One of the best ways to respond comes from Shakespeare’s Henry V.
The stirring speech of Shakespeare’s Henry before the battle of Agincourt contains many leadership nuggets. But commentators who recount the speech usually overlook a particularly valuable one. They focus on the speech’s “band of brothers” aspects but neglect the fact that Henry also said that if any of his soldiers would rather not fight, he’d give them passport and “crowns for convoy” back to England.
Henry was aware that some of his soldiers were reluctant to fight; for he led a rather bedraggled army. History recounts they had marched 260 miles in 17 days. They were short of food. They were drenched by two weeks of continuous rain. Many of them were suffering from dysentery contracted from drinking fetid pond water. And they were facing the flower of French knighthood, knights who were rested, better equipped and eager for battle. So there were probably many soldiers who wanted to avoid battle, get quickly to the coast and board ships for England.
Shakespeare has his Henry respond to these leadership challenges in a telling way. Instead of trying to cajole those who wanted to leave into remaining with him, or on the other hand, punish them, he did something much more effective: He actually offered them passports and money to go.
“Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse; We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.”
Now, apply this lesson to those people who tell you they want out. You may find yourself reshaping your relationship with them in positive ways and boosting your leadership effectiveness with the people who remain.
Here’s how you do it. Offer them “crowns for convoy.” Have them draw up specific leadership actions that they will take to leave. Provide milestones and ways that you and they can monitor their progress. Support them in their taking leave as you would any cause leader who is staying.
One might say that if somebody wants out … good riddance! But let’s examine this. When somebody wants to leave, two facts apply. One is that, clearly, that person – for whatever reason – is dissatisfied and is looking for satisfaction elsewhere. And two is that you have a relationship with the person. It might be a good relationship. It might be a bad relationship. But here’s the point: You don’t want to get the two facts mixed up in a bad way. Because that relationship will continue in one way or another even if you don’t set eyes on each other again.
A bad relationship with an employee that left your organization can come back to haunt you in many unforeseen ways. For instance, it may poison your relationship with the people who remain behind. By supporting that person in taking leadership of their leaving, you are creating an opportunity for you to change your relationship with them, to work together in a positive way. This may help redress any bad feelings that might have otherwise grown worse.
When CROWNS FOR CONVOY are not offered in spite or rancor but out of a genuine desire to help, you’ll transform a potentially bad situation into a beneficial one. And who knows? Maybe, like Henry, you’ll achieve an unexpected upset win.
2005 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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