Barduous Journey

Looking for answers on the toilsome path of running a business? Ask Shakespeare.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the January 2002 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

All entrepreneurs have something of the actor in them. But an actor who has the entrepreneur in him? Richard Olivier, of Olivier Mythodrama Associates, 40, is the son of the late Laurence Olivier, who was legendary for breathing life into Shakespeare's characters. For the past several years, Richard-theater director at the Globe Theatre in London and visiting fellow at the Cranfield School of Management-has been using Shakespearean plays to teach business executives and entrepreneurs about leadership. He trains clients in the United States several times a year, but we couldn't wait, so we called him in England to see what this is all about.

What exactly do you do at your seminars?

Richard Olivier: We combine four elements: theater skills, mythology, psychology and organizational development. We get people to identify behaviors and strategies they want to take [with them] at the end of the course, and in longer sessions, we coach them to rehearse those behaviors. So, say, in Act I of Henry V, Henry's principal task is to sell his vision of the future to his moguls. We ask our modern leaders to come up with a project or vision they have to sell to their management team, and then they rehearse it, and the other people role-play as managers.

Could you describe what you mean? I take it these execs and entrepreneurs are acting confident. But how does mythology come into play?

Olivier: I wouldn't try to get them to be theatrical. They're actually being more authentic than theatrical. If they start hamming it up like a bad actor, that's not going to get them anywhere, but if we get them to show a bit of themselves they wouldn't normally show, we're using the theater metaphor to help draw that out.

We live among stories every day. And one thing we promote to business leaders is: Know what story you're living. Don't just talk about targets and bonuses and projected forecasts. Tell a story. If your people feel they're part of an exciting story, they'll tend to work harder. Stories motivate people; figures don't.

What does it say about the business world that we can use the writings of a centuries-old playwright to inspire entrepreneurs of the 21st century?

Olivier: Some of the processes of doing business change, but what I call the "human nature of leadership" remains pretty much the same. People are astonished when they look at how Henry V was able to motivate his troops and inspire them to fight against the odds. Those techniques still work today.

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