That quote is something I believe many successful leaders have used to push themselves, beyond the “huh?”. When I was in High School I had a science teacher who used to always say, “you have to get past the ‘huh?’”. Her point was that intelligence often requires a little bit of stubbornness. Every question in science, she would point out, eventually got your brain to a point where you would get lost. (the “huh?”, the moment when you don’t understand.) She would always tell us, that is where you have to trust yourself to find a the answer, you have to want to get past it. You had to be willing to keep pushing, because eventually you’d figure out the point of it. Now I don’t claim to be a scientist, but props to Dr. Reed, that attitude has been a big part of who I am.
So that’s the idea, now here is an example. I’m a history nut, so I thought a great example would be William of Normandy. He’s the last person to successfully invade England, it was in 1066. His story is one of pushing beyond the “huh?” and stepping forward to take the crown. Enjoy.
In the time prior to 1066, William of Normandy was told he would be the next King of England. He was promised this by King Edward the Confessor, who at that time was king. (He had documentation and everything.) And when the King died, before William could go to England to be crowned, and man named Harold seized the throne. The first problem was in front of William: how to take what is rightfully his. He didn’t have the army to win England alone. He got past the “huh?” by use of the documents I spoke of earlier. He recruited other lords (and their armies) to his side under the banner of what was “right.”
So now he had the troops, and set sail for England. They landed at the beaches, and as luck would have it, there wasn’t an army waiting for them. As the boats were unloaded, as the story goes, descent began to come through the troops… “why are we fighting for this mans quarrel?” The second problem: how do I rally these men to truly want to win? (Okay so disclaimer here, this is overkill as a business.) William, Duke of Normandy, ordered ever boat on the beach to be burned. He literally addressed his troops as the boats burned behind them and said simply: “We will not retreat, there is only victory or death for us here.” Now every man to the last was fully focused on the campaign at hand.
As the armies of Harold were poised to meet, William faced yet another problem. Harold was revered throughout the land as one of the finest military leaders. His presence was going to be very impactful on the battle field. Here again William was willing to think outside himself for a solution. He called on his archers to join him on the beach. He positioned two coins standing up on their sides on a log, stepped back and asked which of his archers felt they could hit a coin. Two men stepped forward, and sure enough, perfect shots. In the early hours of the battle (the Battle of Hastings took most of the day) these archers moved in extremely close to the Saxon (Harold was a Saxon) line and shot two arrows, each into one of Harold’s eyes. He was dead instantly. (Interesting to note: Harold only fell to his knees in death, not all the way to the ground.) After the battle Harold was laid to rest with those two gold coins over his eyes.
Harold was gone, but his troops still held the high ground. They were situated at the top of a ridge, and Williams troops having tried multiple times but couldn’t get up the hill and break their front lines. Then the moment of genius that won William of Normandy the crown came forward. He brought his archers into to range and used a tactic not before seen. (He had the stubbornness to know he could eventually solve the question of how to win his throne, and here that solution was.) His archers aimed high in the air, getting as much arch on their shots as possible. Creating the effect of arrows raining down on Harold’s troops. Then while their shots were airborne, the archers would quickly reload and shoot a second arrow on a straight line at Harold’s troops as they lifted their shields to defend against the first wave of shots. This tactic broke Harold’s troops and as the Duke of Normandy pushed his army forward and cleared the battlefield, he became King.
Getting past the “huh?” isn’t rocket science. (Although I’m willing to bet it helped lead to rocket science.) It is about having the belief in yourself to find the answer. Would I suggest what William did… not today. I would however focus on how you came to those decisions. What he did was believe, then shared that belief, and raised the impact of those around him by pushing forward.
Thanks for listening,
*Feel free to correct my history. The stories above of the accounts of William of Normandy that I have read and heard over the years, and are meant to prove the point that believe is something a leader must have.
**Also thanks again Dr. Reed, truly one of the best life lessons I’ve ever taken from a classroom.