Shortly before the famous Battle of Agincourt in 1415, things were looking bleak for the British. Really bleak.
On the morning of October 25th (the feast of Saint Crispin), the English troops found themselves outnumbered 5 to 1 by the French army. Having just marched 420 km across France, King Henry V’s men were tired, hungry, and suffering from illness. If ever there was a time when they required good leadership, it was now.
As Shakespeare tells the story, King Henry V gathered his frightened men and proclaimed:
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd ...
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
He then looked around and called several of his men by name, predicting that they would become household names back in England. “Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester”—these names would be toasted in the pubs by those who gather on the Vigil of St. Crispin’s in future years. As you can see in the film version staring Kenneth Branagh, the king's rousing words had their intended effect on these wearied troops.
Reading this speech reminds me of a leadership strategy of another "V": Coach Jim Valvano. “Jimmy V,” as he came to be known, died of cancer in 1993, but he is most famous for his years coaching the North Carolina State University men’s basketball team. Early in each season, Jimmy V would hold a practice on the basketball court, but no basketballs were present. The players didn’t pass or shoot or run sprints.
Instead, they practiced cutting down the basketball nets.
It's a tradition for the winner of the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament to cut down the net of the basketball hoop used in the game. Each player takes a small piece as a memento, and the team displays the remainder of the net in the university's trophy case.
By bringing a ladder and scissors to practice and having his team go through the motions of cutting down the net, Jimmy V painted a picture of victory. He didn’t just talk about winning the championship, he made it a tangible vision for his players. He ingrained confidence deep within by having them rehearse the end goal with their bodies.
As it happened, in 1983, the #6 seeded North Carolina State team made it all the way to the finals of the national tournament and beat the #1 seeded team in an improbable upset. Sure enough, Coach Valvano and his players climbed the ladder and cut down the nets, just as they had practiced earlier in the season. (Although what often gets more attention is this clip of the jubilant coach running onto the court after the buzzer-beating shot and looking for someone—anyone—to hug!)
Whether it's Jimmy V or Henry V, a good leader can paint a vivid picture of success. Whereas Coach Valvano got his players to believe they could win by rehearsing the championship celebration, King Henry cast a vision for his troops of English townsfolk toasting their heroic victory for years to come. In fact, the King told them that not a feast day of Saint Crispin would go by
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
I’ll toast to that kind of inspiring leadership!
Emerging Leaders Gather for Witherspoon Fellowship
Two weeks ago students came to the Millis Institute from schools across Brisbane and as far away as Dalby and the Sunshine and Gold Coasts to participate in the 2017 Witherspoon Fellowship. In addition to reading and discussing texts like Henry V's St. Crispin's Day Speech, participants engaged in a public speaking competition, a "speed debating" challenge, and ballroom dancing lessons. The weekend culminated in a Formal Hall Dinner, Oxford-style. Thanks to all those who made this event such a success!
Join Us for a "Café Conversation"
If you thirst for some deeper discussions about serious issues of our day, come to a free Millis Institute “Café Conversation.” On Wednesday 19 July, 2017 we will engage the topic of moral relativism, asking questions such as “Can we truly know right from wrong?” and “Are moral judgments anything more than personal preferences?” The words and wisdom of C.S. Lewis will be our focus during this conversation, and Dr. Ryan Messmore will moderate.
Come just for the discussion or stay to learn more about studying at the Millis Institute. The Director and several students will be on hand to share about the bachelor degree and diploma options in the liberal arts, as well as the community life at the Institute. Register for this free event here.