Aug. 26- Sept. 8, 2005
Vol. 35, Issue 14
Back Issues

U.Va. holds steady at No. 2

Faculty diversity rising
Sponsored research tops $300 million
University fills four key posts
Groh gets new contract
A global perspective
Deily: 'Let your conscience by your guide'
Crumpler cuts the lights and advocates more conscious energy use
Leadership lessons from Shakespeare prove timely
Staff discount tickets now on sale for Sept. 5 football game
Leading conservationist Pressey to lecture, teach at U.Va. in September
New O-Hill Dining Hall now open for business


Leadership lessons from Shakespeare prove timely

By Jane Ford

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

ShakespeareThese lines from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” were repeated again and again on the Blackfriar’s stage in Staunton on July 14. Those speaking, however, were not seasoned actors rehearsing which word in the line was best to emphasize. Rather, they were a group of U.Va. employees.

“The last thing I expected was to be acting on the Blackfriar’s stage,” said John Teahan, associate director of the Center for Technology and Teacher Education at the Curry School of Education, after spending the afternoon at “Leadership Lessons from Shakespeare,” a new program offered by U.Va.’s Leadership Development Center.

A huge Shakespeare fan, Teahan was intrigued when he heard about the offering. Although he has been an avid supporter of professional development for his staff, this was the first time he had occasion to take advantage of a class himself. He jumped on the chance.

Fourteen U.Va. employees, including Brian Bell, director, and Krista Weih, marketing and event manager for the leadership center, participated in the program led by Ralph Allen Cohen, executive director and director of education at Shenandoah Shakespeare’s American Shakespeare Center.

For the afternoon, the group was immersed in the language of Shakespeare and the skills that actors employ to bring those words alive. The group learned that Shakespeare’s characters present messages about leadership and insights into how to turn a vision into action through words, voice and body language. The messages are timeless, and the themes he wrote about resonate today.

Cohen kicked off the session by talking about Shakespeare’s genius with words and his skills as a listener.

The U.Va. Leadership
Development Center

that leaders are made and not born and that there exists in each person the capacity to provide leadership and to make a difference.

The Leadership Development Center offers numerous programs throughout the year and can design teambuilding sessions or facilitate staff retreats to better enable people to work together productively and to achieve their organization’s mission.

Core leadership programs are intensive professional development experiences for people who hold key leadership roles.

Leadership workshops and conferences focus on topical issues and are open to network members and those who serve in key leadership roles.

For details about the center and upcoming programs, visit

“Shakespeare has a perfect ear,” Cohen said. “He caught the rhythms of speech; he was able to hear and imitate. He wrote about every kind of situation and every kind of people.”

Cohen and three actors first presented examples from Shakespeare’s plays. Before they embarked on a scene from “Much Ado About Nothing,” in which Beatrice and Benedict talk about their love, the actors composed themselves and mentally transformed into character. Cohen pointed out that Beatrice, who as a woman in Shakespeare’s world has no power, takes on a leadership role as she uses language, repetition and her ability to envision an outcome to convince Benedict to revenge a wrong to her cousin Hero.

Another dramatized example — a speech by Henry V in which he rallies his greatly outnumbered troops before the battle of Agincourt — played on the king’s ability to paint a picture of the rewards the troops would receive after the battle. In the speech, he calls upon their honor, gives them hope, projects an image of future glory at home after the war and plays on their sense of brotherhood, manhood and solidarity.

“We’re not going to be as eloquent as Henry V, but still you have to rally the troops and motivate them,” said Teahan, who manages three to five staff members and a revolving group of up to six graduate students each semester. “Language matters so much, and the turn of a phrase can make a message clear and more inspiring.”

The focus on Henry V’s speech also struck a chord with Lisa Aronson, assistant professor in the department of psychiatric medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction.

“The Henry V speech is a good example of leadership and persuasion,” Aronson said. “One of the main ingredients of leadership is providing hope.”

Aronson studies leadership in traumatized societies and planned to use the Henry V speech as part of a presentation she gave this summer at the American Sociological Association conference. It’s a wonderful example of the use of language and metaphor by a leader to bring about change and influence followers, she said.

For the second part of the program, the participants had the opportunity to gather on stage and learn to put into action what they had been observing. To emphasize the importance of voice, breathing and body movement — all important components a leader needs to use to communicate — Cohen had each member of the group memorize a line from a speech by Ophelia to her father, Polonius, from “Hamlet.”

One after the other, each member of the group delivered their line out loud in a circle on stage. Then, Cohen and the actors led the group through different activities — interpreting lines to emphasize the importance of which word you emphasize, changing the energy and quality of the voice to convey an emotion and the addition of body language. At the end, the participants combined body language with voice skills, each handing off their line, both figuratively and literally, to the next person in the circle.

“Being on stage with my peers and having someone like Ralph Allen Cohen critiquing you is at first intimidating, then thought-provoking — and also a lot of fun,” said Betty Wooding, Facilities Management information officer. From housekeepers and landscapers to office dwellers, Wooding communicates with about 800 U.Va. employees and knows the importance of doing it well.

Judy Mitchell, a Garrett Hall office manager in the College of Arts & Sciences, said she was impressed with how relaxed the actors were and appreciated when Cohen shared that he must always remind himself not to sway as he talks. “Getting up on that stage gave me a comfort level I did not have before,” she said.

Weih said, “I was reminded of the full range of possibilities of using voice and body for communication. We have such a large range, and we use such a small slice of it.”

Wooding praised the exercises. “The skills — voice and body — all work together to reflect your credibility.”

Participants were invigorated by the program and began to put into play what they learned the next day when back at their regular jobs.

“The class made me think about how I present myself,” said Mitchell, who supervises 10 people and interacts with numerous deans. “It made me aware of things I need to do differently and with intention. I need to know what my intention is when I start out.”

Wooding began the next morning by observing those in her office who exhibit characteristics of a good leader. As she went through the day she began to put into practice what she had learned. She consciously made eye contact and spoke clearly and more slowly with those with whom she communicated.

Teahan admitted he was more conscious of eye contact and the way he pronounces certain words and worked to emphasize his verbs more. “It makes it sound like something is happening,” he said.

Bell summed it up. “It’s not just what you say. It’s the way that you say it.”


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