The Quakers, A Sword, And The Leadership Talk

Nearly 350 years ago, the founder of the Quakers uttered seven words to Pennsylvania's founder William Penn that can live on today in your leadership challenges.  Here's why those words are important and how they can be put into daily practice through a process the author has been teaching for more than 20 years.

By Brent Filson - 2006

William Penn (1644-1718),founder of what would become the state of Pennsylvania, was on the receiving end of a succinct Leadership Talk that still reverberates down the centuries and into your everyday leadership challenges.
In his youth, Penn became an ardent Quaker.  When he asked George Fox (1624-1691), the founder of the non-violent religious sect, if he should continue to wear a sword, a standard part of the dress of Penn's aristocratic class, Fox replied, "Wear it as long as thou canst."
Fox's reply not only illustrates a principle of Quakerism but also a  principle underpinning a leadership process I have been teaching to thousands of leaders worldwide during the past 21 years: the Leadership Talk. 
Get the Leadership Talk right, and it can boost your job performance and career in many ways.  But you can't get the Leadership Talk right unless you understand this principle.
What is a Leadership Talk? You can understand it by first understanding "the hierarchy of verbal persuasion."  The lowest levels of the hierarchy are speeches and presentations.  They are methods for communicating information.  The highest level, the most effective way for a leader to communicate, is through the Leadership Talk.  The Leadership Talk not only communicates information; it does something much more: it helps the leader establish deep, human, emotional connections with the people they're talking to, enabling them to be much more effective.       
As to the principle: it goes right to the heart of Fox's reply to Penn. Fox ardently believed that every human has an "inner light and spirit."  The Quakers were guided by that light which they believed came directly from God.  They refused to bow to authority and endorsed pacifism.  Implicit in Fox's reply was that it was Penn's choice, not any mandate from Fox or anyone else, that governed the situation.
The Leadership Talk recognizes that leaders do nothing more important than get results; and the best results happen not when leaders are ordering people to go from point A to point B, say, but when they are having them want to go from A to B.  Instill "want to" in others is what the Leadership Talk does.  That "want to" cannot be mandated; it is the free choice of the people. In other words, great results happen in the realm of free choice of the people you lead.
The Leadership Talk creates an environment conducive to people exercising free choice.  In order to create this environment, you must first ask three questions about the people you'll speak to. 
(1) Do you know the needs of the people?  (2) Can you bring deep belief to what you're saying to them?  (3) Can you have the people take action? 
If you say "no" to any one of these questions, you can't give a Leadership Talk.
Asking and answering these questions many times daily throughout your career with people of all ranks and functions will help you create a fortunate environment of free choice leading to great results. 
Let's see how these questions played out with Fox and Penn. 
DO YOU KNOW THE NEEDS OF YOUR AUDIENCE? Fox's reply went to the heart of Penn's needs. Penn was the scion of an aristocratic family who in his youth had powerful religious experiences.  Penn's needs were clear: He wanted to live by the imperatives of those experiences, which were deeply and personally felt. Fox's spiritual revelations, to use a Quaker saying, "spoke to his condition."
CAN YOU BRING DEEP CONVICTION TO WHAT YOU'RE SAYING?  George Fox certainly spoke with conviction.  Penn described Fox in his journal as ".... plain and powerful in preaching, fervent in prayer ... a discerner of other men's spirits, and very much master of his own." He added that Fox was able to "speak a word in due season to the conditions and capacities of most, especially to them that were weary, and wanted soul's rest .... valiant in asserting the truth, bold in defending it ...."  The two met when Fox was being jailed frequently for his beliefs. Coming from a man holding such deep convictions and being repeatedly jailed defending them, the words "Wear it while thou canst" deeply impressed William Penn.
CAN YOU HAVE THE AUDIENCE TAKE ACTION? The next time Penn saw Fox, he was not wearing his sword.  He said, "I wore it as long as I could."  He would never wear a sword again.  After he joined the outlawed and persecuted Quakers, he was exiled from English society, thrown out of Oxford University, and arrested several times.  Yet he never wavered from promoting and living by the Quaker ideals. That action, NOT putting on his sword (sometimes the best action is no action) when all of social convention cried out that he should, was made all the more notable, instructive, and lasting because it came from his own deeply-felt urging.  
Mind you, don't mistake the Leadership Talk principle of free choice as some psychological delicacy.  I'm talking results here.  Leadership is all about getting results.  The principle does and should have practical functions.  The point is those functions are best manifested in environments of deep, human, emotional relationships.  Such relationships can most effectively be established by your being open to and trusting in the choices people make. Guided by the principle of "Wear it as long as thou canst", you can markedly improve your leadership effectiveness.


2006© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"