Does Shakespeare hold the key to strategic success?

Published: 18/01/2017

Emily Douglas | HR GRAPEVINE


Richard Olivier, son of world-renowned actor Laurence Olivier, spoke exclusively to Business Grapevine on the link between authentic leadership and the Bard of Avon. He explained how his innovative consulting and coaching company, Olivier Mythodrama, aims to help leaders find their own style, boasting clients such as NHS management, the Metropolitan Police and Daimler-Benz.

Where does the inspiration for Olivier Mythodrama come from?

“It came from two places - the theatre and personal development. The work I was doing at The Globe with Artistic Director Mark Rylance inspired the former. Here we spent time looking at Shakespeare’s writing in terms of authentic leadership, and why so many of his plays revolved around leaders and leadership issues.

“This was coupled with the work I was doing in the personal development sphere, which was then called ‘mythopoetic-expressive’ work. Here, we combined great myths from many cultures with poetry and reflection in order to get people to look at themselves and their lives. This in turn made them analyse and recognise their personal potential.

“What inspired me to take this project further originally came from a workshop we held at the Globe in 1997 with 12 public sector leaders in London. Mark and I talked through our ideas with them – which parts of Shakespeare’s leadership lessons are relevant and which are not – and to our surprise at our end of the two days they claimed that everything Henry V did or said in the play was still relevant to modern day leaders. Which was rather astounding.

“I brought the two together to create a new and impactful version of leadership development.”


Why use myth in this context? How does it work?

“The story acts as a container, or a facilitator. It holds people’s attention, it acts as a compelling narrative. Humans are coded to remember stories rather than facts. They say that a picture paints a thousand words – and these stories are incredibly memorable.

“For instance, we’ve had people come back to us after years after they’ve engaged with Mythodrama, and have thanked us, saying they still remember the lessons from the day.”


Is there room for authentic leadership in today’s cynical world?

“This notion of being in a post-truth world is rather shocking – though perhaps it shouldn’t be. In terms of followability, in the end people follow people. You need a plan and a budget but it’s the leader as a human being that people are inspired by. And if they don’t get a sense of that leader stands for then there’s a distance between what that person says and what I should be doing about it.

“Are the leaders self-aware enough about their sense of purpose and can they share that with their followers in an appropriate way? There’s a lovely bit of Henry V, whereby the titular character is stalking around Agincourt before he sends his troops into battle – and potentially their deaths – The Chorus tells the audience: “Upon his royal face there is no note, how dread an army hath enrounded him.”

“There is this notion that he knows how to wear the crown, how to hold a private and a personal face, which is essential to modern leadership. There will be times leaders cannot tell their followers everything they know – so finding the right balance between the two worlds; ‘private truth’ and ‘public face’ is essential.”