The fall of the last Anglo-Saxon King: a case of leadership failure during a crisis

The fall of the last Anglo-Saxon King: a case of leadership failure during a crisis

By Louis Scarpati and Stephen C. Betts

Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies, Volume 12, Number 5 (2006)


The process of Crisis Management can be broken out into three distinct phases: pre-crisis preparation, dealing with the crisis itself, and learning from the ordeal after the crisis is over. While the study of all phases is important, this case examines the most crucial phase, the actual crisis itself. The case describes the Battle of Hastings, placing emphasis on the decisions made by Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. First the events leading up to the battle are presented to provide the context and show the preparations undertaken by Harold. Next the Battle itself is explored.

The most important skills that a leader can have in dealing with a crisis are the ability to reasonably and objectively evaluate real-time feedback, and the ability to adapt to your surroundings and change course, quickly and decisively, as the situation evolves. The Battle of Hastings demonstrates the failures that can occur when a leader does not have these skills. Crisis management and leadership are the primary topic areas covered. In the questions following the case, students are asked to research and examine three specific well-known crisis situations – the New Coke fiasco, the Tylenol scare and the Apollo 13 accident. Information on these cases is widely available on the internet. Instructors can adjust the questions to fit other crisis situations that the students might be more familiar with. The case is designed for senior level undergraduates or entry MBA level students (difficulty 4/5). It is designed to take two hours of class time with two hours of outside preparation if the Coke/Tylenol/Apollo 13 questions are addressed, and one hour of class time with one hour of outside preparation for the Battle of Hastings alone.

In the spring of 1066AD, Harold Godwinson was celebrating his third month as the Anglo-Saxon King of England. This new king acquired two fairly powerful enemies almost immediately – William, the Duke of Normandy, and Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, both of whom were preparing to invade. So the king called out to the entire kingdom for men to mobilize, had defensive positions built along the southern coast at strategic locations, and had many staging areas set up on good ground where he could rally troops and defend the land against invasion.

Hardrada was the first to make a major attack, finally landing near York in the central eastern part of the island. The well-trained English reached them in a few days and used tactics that had proved successful in earlier uprisings. They were able to repel the Norwegian invaders in one day.

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