Leadership, succession and Henry IV!

For a CEO, the question of who will succeed them is often a challenging one. There may not be an obvious candidate, but there does need to be a succession strategy if he or she is to leave the organisation in good hands when they exit.

Last week I went to see Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 which have just opened at the Barbican. As ever, I was struck by the timelessness of Shakespeare’s themes and language, (I had no idea that the expressions ‘every Tom Dick and Harry’ and ‘eat you out of house and home’ originate in these plays!)

The plays are not just about English history and feuding nobility, they are about fathers and sons, the concept of honour, leadership and succession.

Henry IV despairs that his son, Prince Hal, will never show any sort of leadership, and that when he inherits the throne, England will be plunged into bloody chaos. The heir apparent chooses to spend his time with whores, brawling in taverns and getting drunk with Falstaff. He looks for all the world like a lost cause. Yet this is the prince who will, as Henry V, make one of the greatest leadership speeches in the English language, when he rallies his troops against the French.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

What Shakespeare shows us in these three plays is a man who grows into leadership. A brawling prince, who at a critical and transformational point in his life, takes on the role of leader. He renounces his past and rejects Falstaff who has been both a friend and a father to him. There is no looking back and suddenly all that potential manifests itself, he surrounds himself with wise courtiers and then he becomes what he was always capable of.

So I think the point is this. It is not always abundantly clear just who in an organisation has the ability to be a really great leader. They might not be brawling in taverns, but perhaps they’re still at the stage where they want to be ‘one of the boys’ and get drunk at the office party! However, there is sometimes hidden leadership in unexpected places in organisations. If that is spotted and nurtured, then that individual can undergo a transformation and with the right coaching and guidance fulfil their potential.

How to spot a future leader

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