I am not afraid; I was born to do this.
She was an iconic leader who claimed to hear the voice of God instructing her to help free her people from English rule, and her fearless leadership inspired a nation to eventually realise her vision.
Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431) was born in Domremy, France to a poor farmer and his wife ‒ a woman who would teach her daughter the virtues of piety and humility that would remain steadfast with Joan throughout her life.
At the time of her birth, France had long been engaged in a series of conflicts with England, known collectively as The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). In 1420, Henry V of England took the French throne as regent to the insane King Charles VI.
The plan was that Henry would take the throne following Charles’ death; however, in 1422, both men died within months of each other, leaving Henry’s young son as the ruler of both countries.
Supporters of Charles’ son, who would later become Charles VII, pressed for the opportunity to return a French king to the throne, and it was around then that a young Joan of Arc began to receive visions instructing her to lead a virtuous life.
By 1428, the young woman was convinced it was her mission in life to help save France from English rule, and so she set out to secure a private audience with Charles – then the assumptive heir to the throne.
To achieve this, she sought the help of Robert de Baudricourt, the garrison commander and a supporter of Charles. Initially, she was refused; however, due to the support she was gaining among the people, her audience was eventually granted, and she got her private meeting with Charles in 1429.
Despite his reservations, Joan had done enough to convince him that she should be given the opportunity to lead French troops against the English.
It’s speculated that she revealed to him details of a private prayer he had made to God to help save his country, and that only a messenger of God could know this information.
Eventually, the charismatic young woman, then aged 17, was given permission to join the army and go to Orléans, where the English had laid siege. Following a string of heated battles over the space of three days, the French managed to weaken English forces and their morale.
Although Joan was injured twice, she returned to the front ‒ to her troops ‒ to embark on a final push for victory. In 1429, Charles was crowned King Charles VII of France, and Joan was present at the ceremonies.
The following year, the new king sent her to Compiègne to confront the Burgundian assault. It was during this battle that she was captured and eventually turned over to the English for the price of 10,000 francs.
Joan was subsequently turned over to church officials, and was charged with 70 counts including witchcraft, heresy, and dressing like a man.
On May 29, 1431, the 19-year-old Joan was convicted of heresy and sentenced to death by burning at the stake. The following day, she was taken to the marketplace in the French city of Rouen, where her sentence was carried out in the presence of over 10,000 people.
In 1456, three years after the end of The Hundred Years’ War, King Charles VII declared Joan of Arc innocent of all charges and avowed her as a martyr.
On May 16, 1920, she was declared a saint by Pope Benedict XV and became the patron saint of France. During her short life, she espoused and demonstrated the qualities of a courageous servant leader, not least of all, the virtues of piety and humility which she observed pristinely throughout her life.
The story of France’s most unlikely heroine, who rose from obscurity to contribute to her country’s eventual freedom, is one of the most inspiring examples that demonstrates we can all impact the world around us if we follow our faith and make use of the courage that rests within us.
Here, I have picked up three key leadership lessons from the incredible life of Joan of Arc that we can all gain inspiration from:
Listen to Roshan discuss the life of Joan of Arc here.
Stick to your vision despite the obstacles you face
Joan of Arc had a vision to free France from English tyranny.
She was convinced that the starting point of realising this vision was to seek an audience with the heir to the French throne (the future Charles VII). She was refused countless times, despite the help of local military leader, Robert de Baudricourt.
However, she never gave up and eventually was able to secure a private meeting. Joan of Arc was convinced that the specific ‘event’ (the audience with the King) would lead to great things for her country and, despite the obstacles she faced, she pursued her vision until it was realised.
Many times in life, we don’t break our grand vision (to free France) into little achievable goals. Joan of Arc broke her big dream into what the first step should be. And achieved that.
Each step achieved gave her confidence that this was her calling and helped to take her nearer to the vision. How about us? Do we have milestones along our vision journey?
Be strong and lead from the front
France’s peasant heroine led her troops without fear and, despite suffering injuries in battle, she sought strength in her faith and continued in her mission.
Her faith and fearlessness inspired the nation and empowered her people. As a leader, it’s not enough to talk a good game, you must be ready to roll up your sleeves and lead by example if you want to capture the hearts of your followers.
Prior to Joan leading the French, they were significantly humiliated and humbled in battles at Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt. Then 36,000 of the greatest French knights were annihilated at the battlefield of Agincourt on October 1415.
A poor teenager, who had no schooling in the science and art of military warfare, then comes over and convinces them that she (with absolutely no experience or education) is the person to lead them.
It would not have been easy convincing so many of those soldiers to follow her. But she was strong and kept doing impossible tasks – like going across 270 miles of enemy territory to send a message. Leading starts from the front, when you get into the thick of action.
Always remain true to your values
Following her private conversations with Charles, even though the future King of France was impressed by Joan’s spirit, he had eminent churchmen examine her. It’s said that they only found the young woman to be driven by piety, chastity, and humility.
These were values that she held dear throughout her life and they never wavered. In leadership, it is vital to have core values that drive everything you do; they help to ensure your authenticity as a leader and from there, the road to success becomes much easier to navigate.
Even though there will be many calls to change your values, you must be clear as to what they are and you must hold dearly to them, even if it may cause you short-term losses. Great leaders know that holding on to their values will bring long-terms gain, even though it may be painful in the short-term.
Prefer an e-mag reading experience? This article is also available in our 22nd December, 2018 digital issue. Access our digital issues here.