The St. Crispin's Day speech is a famous speech from William Shakespeare's play, Henry V, in Act IV Scene iii. This is a key excerpt:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
This speech is about esprit de corps. The definition of esprit de corps is: the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group.
In an early stage company, the ability of a founder to instill belief, in his small group of employees, that the team is doing something important, greater themselves and worthy of sacrifice can be the difference between success and failure.
It’s not news that going to work at a startup is hard. The odds of success are low. It takes a special leader to motivate a team to take on and beat these odds.
Creating an ‘us against the world’ mentality to motivate team members to work long hours, to surmount obstacles and succeed is an important skill that good leaders possess. It requires, vision, faith, drive, communication and the ability to exude confidence in the face of potential failure.
One good example of a leader who was able to do this was Buddy Ryan.
Buddy Ryan, was the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears from 1978 to 1985. Under him, the ‘85 Bears defense led the league in turnovers forced while surrendering the fewest yards, points, and first downs in a season. They set several NFL records that still stand today. The Bears won the Superbowl in ’85 on the back of this defensive unit dominating the New England Patriots 46–10. After the game, the Bears defense carried Ryan off the field on their shoulders.
Buddy Ryan died June 28, 2016. The outpouring of his former players was nothing short of awesome. Each player spoke of the esprit de corps he engendered within the unit. They talked about how the team was more important than any one individual. They talked about how they were willing to sacrifice for the team and how doing so allowed each player to perform at levels greater than they might have otherwise. And nearly every player said they loved Buddy Ryan like a father.
So how did Buddy Ryan do it? In reading through accounts of that season and watching documentaries on that 1985 Bears team, it is clear that he used a lot of psychology. He told this unit that the Bears offense was weak and that the burden for carrying the team was on the defense. This was untrue. He told the group that ‘nobody out their believed in them’ and that the whole world was against them. This was also untrue - but he got his players to believe it. Then, after he set the premise he did two more things. First, told the guys that 'he believed in them' and that they should believe in each other because this was all they had. Second, he instilled the mentality that there was greater glory in sacrificing for each other than there was in achieving individual success. He inspired enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group. Esprit de corps.
In this particular case, with this particular team, what Buddy Ryan did made the difference. It is true that there were a lot of talented players on that side, but Buddy galvanized them into probably the best defensive unit that has ever played football. The dominance the Bears showed that season caused everyone to believe that the team was on the cusp of a dynasty. Surely this was the first of many Superbowls to come. But after Buddy left the Bears at the end of the season, that same group of players on defense were not nearly as dominant in the following years. The 1986 team lost in the NFC Divisional Playoff to the Washington Redskins. The same thing happened in 1987. The Bears didn't get back to the Superbowl for 21 years. Buddy as their leader was the key to making them elite.
Shakespeare made it sound easy. Buddy Ryan made it look easy. But to be clear… as important as it is to create esprit de corps… it is not easy.