THE BLOG
06/01/2010 09:56 am ET Updated May 26, 2011

Bard Blog: Overcoming Adversity -- Leading in Tough Times

"When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions." So says Claudius who, as king in Hamlet, proves to be a gifted crisis manager.

He's the type desperately needed today on the Gulf spill, Israeli front, or facing nuclear/terrorist threats from North Korea and Iran.

Good, but not best. Better than skilled crisis management is crisis prevention. It's leading in perilous times to overcome adversity, hence precluding a crisis.

Don't take my, or even the Bard's, word for it. Rather, take it from high-potential mid-level execs who gathered at the Wharton School of Business from around the world last week. They dubbed "leading in times of stress" and "overcoming adversity" as their top priority in our Movers and Shakespeares training session.

While we've conducted leadership training for scores of Wharton execs over the past eight or so years, never have participants in the intensive, week-long "Leadership Journey" been clearer.

They came for guidance, if not inspiration, from others who've had to overcome challenges in similarly tough times. They found it in Henry Vth, one of the Bard's dramatic masterpieces, but also a look into exciting history.

I've collected five or six biographies of "Hank Cinque," as we've dubbed him, who was arguably Britain's greatest king. He faced dire adversity -- beyond anything nowadays -- to lead his troops in England's most stunning triumph.

Just a kid, 27 years old, Henry was new to the throne, hence relatively inexperienced. He and his "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers" -- sound vaguely familiar? that's because "band of brothers" has become the Marines' informal tagline -- faced the French, who had overwhelming advantages in numbers -- 5 or even 10 to 1 superiority -- in cavalry, and in armor. Plus, the French had the home court advantage, with troops healthy and rested, while Henry's were sick and exhausted.

But -- forsooth! You guessed it! -- Henry pulled off an upset victory by showing timeless leadership skills, values, and behaviors.

Much of leadership -- okay, not all, but much nonetheless -- can be taught. If not taught outright, then at least modeled. Henry's type of top-drawer leadership furnishes techniques which can be mimicked, attitudes which can be adopted, and insights which can be gleaned.

Top among them is the deft summary of his immortal "St. Crispin's Day Speech," probably the greatest motivational speech in history. And one which inspired Winston Churchill, who echoed its tones during the Battle for Britain's darkest days.

Henry Vth ends the speech saying "All things are ready if our minds be so!" It's a perfect encapsulation of leading in tough times.

For what counts most are -- not the financials or equipment or buildings -- but the skills and attitudes of everyone in a challenged organization. If their "minds" be "ready," with good knowledge and attitude, then success can come -- perhaps not as heroically as it came to Henry Vth.

But good enough for us today.