The Energizer

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Don’t Take Leadership Lessons from Henry VIII of England!

by Eileen McDargh, Chief Energy Officer - Thursday, October 30, 2014
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King Henry was thought to be a great leader at the beginning of his reign but he made a series of horrid mistakes that eroded the trust of his people and his court. Does this sound like some of our politicians and now disgraced corporate CEO’s? You decide!

Henry did not honor his commitments. He made promises to wives, his privy council and high ranking people in his court and then ignored them. At times he would banish someone from court simply to avoid keeping his promises.

Henry surrounded himself with advisers who came and went through the years. His modus operandi was often to respond in three ways: ignore the advice, send the advisor to the Tower of London for beheading, or select the wrong people to listen to.

Henry distanced himself from his public. His first wife Catherine was beloved by the English people. Her public approval drove Henry mad, making a divorce possible by only the most devious of means. He ignored the needs of his people and only worked to satisfy his own needs.

Henry didn’t take responsibility for his mistakes. When a marriage failed he always blamed the woman or the advisors who suggested her as a marital candidate. He destroyed a church to marry Anne Boleyn. When he tired of that marriage, he claimed that Anne was a witch who put him under a spell, thus causing his bad judgment. Wonder what Eliot Spitzer’s excuse was?

Not only did Henry VIII behave as a spoiled, petulant child, but his ego-driven decisions almost destroyed the finances of his kingdom. Ummm. How does your “kingdom” look these days? Are decisions made for personal gain or for long-term responsibility to those served?

So check your ego at the door and do the opposite of Henry.

  1. Only make commitments you can keep. If mitigating circumstances arise that impact those commitments, communicate honestly and tell your employees why. Perhaps you can honor your promises in increments if some factor is keeping you from honoring the promise in full.
  2. Ask for advice and listen. Don’t fire or banish someone to the file room because their advice does not please you. Talk to down line employees to get their on-the-ground report. They might have an insight that eludes even the most highly paid manager on your team.
  3. Take responsibility for your decisions and actions. Learn to say “I’m sorry” and mean it. No one expects company leaders to be perfect but they do expect them to be honest. If there’s pain in the mistake, the leader should bear the most.

How slow we are to learn from the life of a man who continues to be portrayed in books, plays and television shows. We’re seeing too many modern day “Henry’s”–of both genders—in corporate and governmental arenas. Maybe we should reverse King Henry’s actions and declare, “Off with their heads!”


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Eileen McDargh Keynote Speaker Blog Author

About Eileen!

Since beginning her consulting and training practice in 1980, Eileen has become noted for her ability to speak the truth with clarity, wisdom, humor and compassion. Long-standing clients and repeat engagements attest to her commitment to make a difference in minds, hearts and spirits of organizations and individuals. She draws upon practical business know-how, life's experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from health care associations to religious institutions. Executive Excellence magazine selected her as one of the top 100 thought leaders in leadership and among the top ten consultant providers of leadership development.

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