“From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother …” – Shakespeare’s Henry V
‘We happy few.’
In about 1801 aboard some ship it seems Admiral Horatio Nelson, quoting his favorite Shakespeare play, toasted a small group of his best friends and the leading captains/admirals in the Royal Navy as “we happy few.”
Let us remember that this small group helped a small island’s navy kick the crap out of every nation in the world.
When I began thinking about this and decided to write … it was focused solely on business. And it will remain so, however, as always … I seem to find that personal Life mirrors business life in many ways. Particularly if you define your Life <or let’s say that your Life is often defined by> what you do professionally.
I think we are all seeking our own “happy few.” People we can surround ourselves with that don’t comfort us … they just make us better.
I thought of this because I recently saw someone I worked with after almost 15 years. I had worked well with her. And after almost 15 years apart … we still worked well together. Ok. Not just well … but really well.
We were still part of ‘we happy few.’
This ‘happy few.’
The group in which we can not only be ourselves … but actually prosper.
These can be friends, coworkers or whomever.
Some symbiotic relationship seems to exist … even within some hierarchical relationship … that makes things better.
And maybe more importantly … make you better.
This ‘happy few’.
The people you go to battle with in life or in business.
The people who know what you are thinking before you even think it … and even when they don’t … when you surprise them … they don’t reject … but rather … well … think. Not out of respect but rather because they assume there has to be some thread of usefulness pragmatism or hope that can be used.
I have written several times about how great businesses are often somewhat based in some fashion of serendipity … having the right people at the right place at exactly the right time. < http://brucemctague.com/right-people-right-place-right-time >
I still am a firm believer in that.
Maybe even more so now.
Because after 15 years I have been reminded that in the seamless inner workings of a great business relationship of ‘we happy few’ … I know in my heart of hearts … if I could gather ‘we happy few’ in one place … at the right time … we would kick ass. And, in my case, having worked in a number of places … I believe I could gather the happy few from all places … put them together … and while they would all laugh at the common ‘me things’ which make me … well … me … in the end … the ‘we happy few’ would work well together as a ‘we.’
This happy few.
The few are defined by time … as well as a natural connection.
Time teaches the nuances. The timing of actions tied to intent. The ability to ‘see’ inside what is being thought in all dimensions … without all the explanation. And the comfort to stop and ask and explore and debate the unsaid before it is even said.
And then the natural connection.
In we happy few the leaps of logic are no longer leaps but simply common sense.
There is a tendency to not really imagine what is possible … because the happy few just see through some personal filter of what is possible.
There is no gap between thinking and feeling. It’s all connected among the happy few. Discovery is messy but within a small interconnected group there always appears some form of tidiness.
What I just described is a natural thing … maybe honed by time … but the metal upon which is placed on the whetstone of time is already there.
Now <part 1>.
I am not suggesting the sea is always smooth. Nor am I suggesting the sailing is always seamless. In fact I tend to believe what makes a true ‘happy few’ is the conflict … and the resolution. The ability to fight and make up … without thinking it was a fight … nor that you are actually ‘making up.’
It just is.
The conflict is natural and positive … the resolution is natural and positive.
For some intangible reason the ‘what’s next’ portion of we happy few is attainable and possible and happens without any barnacles on the side of the ships to slow you down.
Now <part 2>.
This is all frustrating to those outside this small band of brothers.
Frustrating in that they need and want the words & explanations.
Frustrating because they want to separate <and often debate> the thinking and the feeling.
Frustrating because they can only imagine the finite and need comforting to step into the infinite.
Frustrating in that they only see the impossible and begin demanding the possible.
Frustrating because all they see is the mess in discovery and not the tidiness in the what is discovered.
This is ultimately all frustrating to the happy few because they are already thinking of ‘what’s next.’
This happy few.
It’s different than family. It is certainly a professional thing.
Family can make you blind because its … well … blood. With family you can go through walls for someone … often for all the wrong reasons because of the one right reason … its family.
In the professional world?
This small band goes through walls for only one reason … the right reason. It is never <if but rarely> blind … but based on respect & trust & a sense of completion of something good based on something more than feeling <which family sometimes leans on>.
I feel sorry for those who professionally have not had the ‘we happy few.’ I would guess if you haven’t experienced it … you have been a little less successful. And I will not have to guess by saying you just haven’t received the full benefit of professional life.
You may attain a different success … but you haven’t attained the success of the camaraderie and trust and … well … the real opportunity to be open and be yourself in the professional world.
And maybe it’s that last thought that is the most important.
Because having been a leader <even in a smaller sense of the word and world> one of the most difficult things is to be … well … yourself. Open yourself up to exposing the flaws and mistakes and the sometimes stupidity that comes as the façade to what comes before something not stupid. And with ‘we happy few’ you have that small window of opportunity to open up. You don’t forfeit all the things that come with being a leader or having to lead … you just gain because you actually get to grow as a person.
And that is what we happy few is all about.
We got better.
They made me better.
And in doing so I got to lead and be a leader <through some luck of the draw>.
We happy few means being one of the luckiest people in the professional world.
And I believe Admiral Nelson knew that.
He was good at what he did. He was smart and intuitive and courageous. But I think in his heart of hearts … he knew he was lucky in that he was part of ‘we happy few’ which enabled him to be the best he could be.
His “we happy few” permitted him the luxury to rely on simple strategies rather than complicated complex plans. The interconnectedness of the small band made not only him, but all of them, certain in the knowledge everyone would support one another in striving toward the bigger objective … and yet be confident enough to use their own initiative when required. While the thinking was complex and sometimes leaned on a good dose of imagination in the end the thoughts were easily communicated in simple written instructions reinforced verbally when possible or necessary.
His captains were intelligent, experienced officers … they needed no more.
And that is what we happy few is in the professional world.
They need no more than each other to be happy.
———: historical note.
About Nelson’s “we happy few.”
Nelson’s happy few were the Royal Navy captains who served under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson. Several of which infamously served as his flag captain at different times. He originally used the term only for his captains at the Battle of the Nile but in correspondence it was deemd a broader perspective in Nelson’s eyes.
The ‘band of brothers’ comprised, in order of seniority, James de Saumarez, Thomas Troubridge, Henry d’Esterre Darby (1764?–1823), Thomas Louis, John Peyton (1760?–1809), Alexander Ball, Samuel Hood, Davidge Gould (1758–1847), Thomas Foley, George Westcott (who died of a wound sustained during the battle), Benjamin Hallowell, Ralph Miller, Thomas Thompson, Edward Berry, and Thomas Hardy. Those whom the naval historian Sir John Laughton considered worthy of an entry in the original Dictionary of National Biography were, with one exception, outstanding officers. Saumarez, Troubridge, Louis, Foley, Hood, Hallowell, and Hardy would hold important commands as admirals. Ball was the first governor of Malta, although he died before reaching flag rank. Thompson ran the Navy Board for a decade. Hardy topped them all: he became first sea lord in 1830 and helped erect Nelson’s Column. By contrast to the others, Edward Berry was prone to serious errors of judgement at sea and in combat. <source Andrew Lambert – Oxford University Press>
The one left off the list was most likely Nelson’s best friend and most respected companion … his second-in-command at the Battle of Trafalgar Cuthbert Collingwood. I have used Cuthbert in a post before: http://brucemctague.com/moment-to-do-the-extraordinary