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Rehearsing Tomorrow’s Leaders - The Potential of Mythodrama

Richard Olivier & Dr Julie Verity page 1

Rehearsing Tomorrow’s Leaders

- the potential of mythodrama Richard Olivier and Dr Julie Verity

Published in : Business Strategy Series, Volume 9, Number 3, 2008. Special Edition –

Focus on Leadership and Mentoring.

Richard Olivier is the founder of Olivier Mythodrama, an Associate Fellow of Oxford Said Business School and was Master of Mythodrama at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. He is the author of 'Inspirational Leadership - Henry V and the Muse of Fire', (2001) Spiro Press and co-author of 'Peak Performance Presentations' (2004). Richard can be contacted at: info@oma.uk.com.

Dr Julie Verity is a consultant, Senior Visiting Lecturer and Director for the Executive MBA programmes at Cass Business School. Julie also holds a visiting fellowship at Cranfield School of Management and has worked wide range of with SME’s and global organisations; including with Shell International since 1990.

She can be reached at www.julie.verity.co.uk.

In a recent article1, Gary Hamel said:

There are a new set of challenges on the horizon. How do you build organizations that are as nimble as change itself? How do you mobilize… the imagination of every employee, every day? How do you create organizations that are highly engaging places to work in? And these challenges simply can’t be met without reinventing our 100 year-old management model.

… the old model was “How do you get people to serve the organization’s goals?” Today we have to ask, “How do you build organizations that merit the gifts of creativity and passion and initiative?” You cannot command those human capabilities. Imagination and commitment are things that people choose to bring to work every day - or not.

Hamel was espousing the changes he thought were imperative to management practice in order for businesses to thrive in a world transformed by technology and globalization. His thesis relevant to

leadership was two-fold:

i) traditional command-and-control models were obsolete in this turbulent, knowledge intensive, talent hungry, global and technology-enabled world, and

ii) restricting leadership to the few at the top did not make good sense:

Too many executives seem to believe that while a few people in the company may be really clever and creative, most folks aren’t. When you look at companies like Toyota, you see their ability to mobilise the intelligence of so-called ordinary workers. Going forward, no company will be able to afford to waste a single iota of human imagination and intellectual power.

McKinsey Quarterly (2008) Number 1 Strategic Partnership Programmes Developing World Class Leaders t. +44 (0)20 7386 7972 www.oliviermythodrama.com Rehearsing Tomorrow

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Mobilising imagination, bringing passion and commitment to work, these are the challenges we have worked with over the past ten years. We have worked with global corporations, government and public sector groups, schools (teachers and pupils), the not-for-profit sector and in cooperation with leading business schools, observing and rehearsing people in the broadest range of leader roles. We have seen that every individual who chooses to develop has the potential to lead themselves and to lead others.

Mythodrama has proved a powerful learning intervention that organisations we have worked with, tell us brings something unique to their leadership development programmes. This is perhaps best summarised by

a director of a multinational telecommunications company who experienced the Mythodrama work :

’The single biggest challenge that faces business leaders is to attract, retain and develop the best people to get them all working together to pursue a vision of some sort - firstly to identify that vision and then to lead the entire army off in that direction. And that is not an easy thing to do in such a dry, rational environment as business. That is where this program has really helped us by giving us a different vocabulary and making us step away from the numbers and look at things in the way that a Henry V figure might have looked at them.

‘We truly believe that inspiring the greater workforce of eleven or twelve thousand people is something which the day-to-day vocabulary of normal business won’t provide for - and Henry V can help us there.’ The Story of Mythodrama Every academic, consultant, coach, teacher and parent, understands the power of story. Telling stories is part of human nature and a fundamental way that human beings learn. A story has the potential to bring complex patterns and relationships alive. Stories and myths are one of the universal artifacts of human culture. Shakespeare wrote some of the greatest stories about people, many about leaders. Warren Bennis, distinguished professor of business at the University of Southern California, recommends The Complete Works of Shakespeare as ‘the best read’ on Leadership and Change. He said, At least read Henry IV, parts one and two, for a vision of heroic leadership. …. Courage is getting people to march behind your ideas2.

And Joseph L Badaracco Jr., Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School said: Think of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. You could learn as much about leadership from that play as you would from reading any business book or academic journal3.

This explains where the ‘Mytho’ [in Mythodrama] comes from: the great stories and insights into human nature that Shakespeare created. The ‘drama’ is the second part of the learning experience. The method for getting the story across, the way meaning is made real and impactful.

Using Mythodrama as a leadership development intervention began for us in 1997. With colleagues at the Globe theatre [London] we studied Shakespeare’s great plays as maps of human development and, after directing Henry V for the opening season of the Globe, we had the idea to present a Mythodrama experience to business leaders. We were encouraged by business guru Charles Handy and poet David Whyte

- and were sponsored by the Office for Public Management. Participants at these workshops said the Mythodrama approach had a transformational effect. Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive, Fast Company (Sep 2004) Harvard Business Review, March 2006

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highlighting how they were caught-up with Henry’s story and how easy it was to reflect on their own situation and experiences through the story. How they could rehearse new ideas and behaviors in the space created by the drama and under the inspiration of the actors/tutors in the room. This client affirmation was our "call to adventure", it was the excitement and positive energy we needed to make the move into Leadership Development from our actor/theatre pasts (see sidebar).

In the subsequent ten years, we have grown our team of theatre-trained consultants and have helped senior executives around the world to practice their potentials and develop their characters.

The great stories we use in our learning interventions include Henry V – as an inspirational leader; Julius Cesear to understand power, politics and influence; Macbeth to explore the danger of derailing behaviors and the potential for quiet leadership4 evident in Prince Malcolm; the Tempest to understand the dynamics of leading change; and, As You Like It to enable positive culture change.

What Mythodrama - the methodology - employs is the power of storytelling to demonstrate the skills and behaviors of leaders. Mythodrama is an experiential way of preparing leaders for the unforeseen events that will ultimately define their leadership. It has proved to be a powerful learning intervention that enables people to bring all of themselves to work, to stand-up for what is important and adapt to meet new situations.

How Mythodrama Works - Examples from Shakespeare

The first play we developed for organizational leadership learning was Henry V, a story which embodies a vivid exploration of what it takes to be an inspirational leader. During the course of the play, many leadership issues arise - from communicating a vision to managing conflict and maintaining momentum, overcoming self-doubt and inspiring others.

The story of ‘Henry V’ is about a leader’s journey. As heir to the throne, Prince Henry is not a credit to his crown, but is transformed when he steps into his new role as King. Because of his misspent youth, he has to establish a better reputation and win the respect of his followers before uniting them to a common, legitimate purpose and leading them to France to reclaim England’s lands.

In France, the project has good days and bad. Henry uses his natural leadership talents to contend with the challenges and obstacles on his army’s path. The climax of the play is the field of battle at Agincourt, where Henry and his tired, hungry, worn-out troops must face the enemy. It is here that we see the warrior leader in action, but in preparation for this day, Henry has a restless night where he has to face his own doubts and fears, challenge his own motives and beliefs. After the battle and victory for England, Henry has to turn his attention to healing relationships with France a task which forces him to take-on yet another leadership style. We learn many things that are relevant to leaders from Henry’s journey, but a crucial one is the multifaceted nature of the task. Henry’s success was, in part, the result of being able to play more than one role.

J L Badaracco (2002) Leading Quietly - an unorthodox guide to doing the right thing

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At the beginning of a learning event, our theatre-trained consultant/facilitators relate Shakespeare’s myth, creating the atmosphere of the play, explaining the storyline and inviting executives to get involved with the events and issues, finding ones that are particularly relevant to their individual situation. As in a workshop, we have chosen some Acts from the play as the focus of this paper.

A Sense of Purpose

A sense of purpose gives meaning to the everyday decisions and actions people take. ‘Why am I doing this?’ and ‘What am I trying to achieve?’ are vital questions that link individuals and the tasks they do to their work context. This is both fundamental and plain common sense, but is often given little attention and time by leaders at all levels of the organization. Leaders who know the value of aligning their people to the task have the answers to these questions and communicate them to their followers - often. Great leaders communicate messages about purpose and direction with belief and confidence.

In the play, Henry is newly ascended to the throne, having put behind him a dissolute youth spent haunting the taverns of London in the company of low life. He now needs something to unite people behind him, to demonstrate what he stands for as a leader and his worthiness to rule. It comes in the shape of his claim to the throne of France and the chance to wage a war.

This cause is legitimate and the ‘right’ thing to do. Of this, Henry is assured. He has consulted with his top management team – the nobles. His challenge is to convince others and instill in his followers the same sense of purpose and belief.

Ultimately people buy into the personal, not the abstract. People choose to follow people – not the vision/mission statement, not the logo or the strap line. Whilst needing to understand the rational reasons why the organization is taking this, or that, direction, it is how followers feel about their leader, what they sense about the commitment and belief this person has in her own words that motivates them to fight for the cause – or not. A leader who has the skill of inspiration, understands the need to appeal to both head and heart and can communicate ‘belief’ and commitment.

Using Henry as our guide, what we do in our workshops is to let people act out the consultation and commitment process. Participants can explore different strategies, rehearse using a different language and practice inhabiting new styles. People will follow someone who is honest, authentic and passionate about what they want to do. Communicating a vision is about combining rational business reasoning with emotional, value-led reasons that genuinely resonate with people.

Facing the Dark Night

Henry’s enterprise in France runs far from smoothly and after numerous setbacks he and his troops are faced with encountering the superior numbers of the French army at Agincourt. The eve of battle is Henry’s dark night when he doubts his ability to succeed. It is three o’clock in the morning and he admits that : ‘tis true that we are in great danger’. The dilemma he now has to face is if he and his army have arrived at this point Strategic Partnership Programmes Developing World Class Leaders

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in the campaign because of his poor decision-making or, if this is just one last hurdle he has to overcome in the journey to success. Given how badly the campaign has gone so far, does he still have the right to ask people to follow him?

In our workshops, when we ask people to decide what Act of the play most interests them, this is a popular choice. It is attractive because it takes Henry and us, to the heart of what it is to be a leader - why people want to be one and what qualities they have which will enable them to succeed. The dark night is about facing one’s innermost fears, doubts and uncertainties, especially in a crisis. There is a point in most meaningful projects when leaders are forced to ask some fundamental questions: ’Why am I doing this?’, ’Why did I take this job in the first place?’, ‘Is this still the right thing to do?’ and ‘Am I the right person to do it?’ Such moments are the times when we discover resources we never thought we had or alternatively that old modes of thinking and behavior are not enough to carry us through. Being a leader is about being brave enough to face up to one’s deepest fears and being willing to dig deep to find out what inspires us. Without inspiration, we cannot inspire others.

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