This edition of the Storytellers Channel’s newsletter we are highlighting Robert Ellis’ position that graduate business school can make you clever, but the wisdom necessary for effective leadership is best found in history and literature.
We’re also celebrating the conclusion of our 3rd Annual Hearts Afire Storytelling Festival.
And announcing our latest Stories Matter! Showcase commencing this Friday February 1st.
Remember: You Matter. Your Stories Matter. Tell Them Well!
The Storytellers Channel
Robert Ellis has a Ph.D. from Rutgers University and also attended Christ Church College at Oxford University and The Juilliard School.
His book on leadership, Intellectuals as Leaders and Critics, was submitted for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize.
Dr. Ellis’ position is that B-Schools teach their students to be clever. He doesn’t dismiss the value of post graduate business education, his contention is that it’s incomplete.
True wisdom is to be found in history and literature.
How History and Literature’s Stories Grow Business Leader
– Robert Ellis, PhD
“The further back we look the further ahead we can see.”– Winston Churchill
Literature, philosophy and history may not at first seem as immediately practical for business as courses in cost accounting, marketing and finance, but dig a bit beneath the surface. They can be wonderfully practical, hard-headed, and immediately useful for business leaders.
Here is a practical application of Churchill’s theory: A business is in trouble, burdened by runaway inflation, bereft of strategic alliances, torn by internal bickering, eyed greedily by competitors bent on a hostile takeover. Competitors that are literally pounding on your customers. No one on the Street, if they were to look at the stock price would hold out any degree of optimism. The once high evaluation of this organization’s paper had sunk to the level of a penny stock. A few years later that company is one of the most stable, the richest and the most powerful multinational corporations on the planet.
This is a description of sixteenth century England shortly before the attempted invasion by Philip II under the command of the Spanish Admiral Medina Sidonia in 1588, with the intention of overthrowing Elizabeth I. In business terms, this was clearly a hostile takeover of a seemingly weaker opponent and Queen Elizabeth I the CEO who managed history’s greatest turnaround. How did she do it? Elizabeth’s leadership wizardry are lessons today’s business leaders can employ in their own quest for excellence and supremacy in hard times. A study of military strategy can show how, like the Queen’s much smaller navy, a small and upcoming company can defeat an entrenched rival. But she did not stop there. She knew a good and active domestic policy was necessary if tiny Britain was to become a world empire. Hundreds of bills were initiated concerning industries such as the manufacture and trade of cloth, leather, and iron; poverty, unemployment and vagrancy; agrarian regulation of land use especially for grain and timber; measures to ensure social stability, to bring trade and commerce under greater control, and to improve education. Elizabeth expanded into new international markets; her official encouragement and personal financing of explorers and colonial entrepreneurs would extend far into the nineteenth century creating the greatest global business empire in history.
Anyone in a leadership role will find much to emulate in Elizabeth’s long, challenging and highly successful reign including leadership strategies for developing and communicating a vision of excellence, nurturing creativity, turning crisis into triumph and rallying an organization when the odds against success seem bleak.
Besides Elizabeth another name dominates this period of history. Shakespeare is not taught at any business school but literature as well as history is immediately practical. Kafka, for example, is an excellent introduction to the mysterious working of corporate decision making. Reading The Iliad makes CEO’s realize work is an adventure; reading The Odyssey makes them realize work is a journey and reading Job makes them see work as a riddle. Dante’s Inferno has obvious utility for American workers and I commend to all upper level executives careful study of Machiavelli’s The Prince or, for middle managers, Baldassare Castiglione’s work of 1508, Book of the Courtier.
John Whitney used Shakespeare to help him out in his leadership role. Whitney was recruited from his job as associate dean at HBS to help turn around Pathmark, at that times one of the nation’s biggest supermarket chains. Employee morale was non-existent. Layoffs were inevitable, so it seemed. Little or nothing could be done. “But I knew,” he was later to write, “exactly what to do because I had [in reading Shakespeare] listened to the incomparable Falstaff when he taught Prince Hal King Henry IV, Part I that if he was going to lead people he needed to enter their world. I immediately visited Pathmark stores and warehouses. And, like Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt, I rallied the troops. In the face of opposition from the people I was working for, I stuck to my guns because I had learned from Macbeth the risks of abandoning principles. Julius Caesar had also taught me that the ridged, dogmatic leader risks getting it in the neck; and from King Henry IV I learned how important it is for a leader to create a strategy and stick with it. Of course, I had enemies eager to see me fail, but what they didn’t know was that I had been instructed in malicious designs by Iago. On more than one occasion, I avoided being dispatched into oblivion by recalling King Lear.”
So let us take Shakespeare’s advice in his play Richard II:
“For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings.”
Our 3rd annual Hearts Afire warmed the cockles of our audiences’ hearts.
Thank you to our tellers Dolores Hydock, Ilene Evans, Dr. Jim Lavender and our MC Ruth Walkup.
I particularly want to express my appreciation for the staff of Richmond’s First Baptist Church for hosting us for the third year in a row. Their staff are unfailingly cordial and their hospitality has been unparalleled.
Tales of Deadly Matrimony
Edgar Allan Poe
Let Us Entertain You
Friday nights at 7:00 pm Storytellers Channel presents stories honed in our Stories Matter! Workshop.
And we hope after you hear them; they’ll matter to you, as well.
More importantly, we hope they’ll inspire you when you leave the showcase to share stories that matter to you with those who matter to you.
We know you’ll have a good time, because everyone who has every come to one of our storytelling events has said they had a great time!
Join us and bring a friend.
I Want to Hear from You
The next newsletter will be about using story as a leadership tool.
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what storytelling topics you’d like to me explore.
Til next time,