Saturday, July 4, 2020

Executive Education

History Funnel: Leadership Is Not For Rolling Stones

Once upon a time there was an Athenian named Alcibiades. Alcibiades was in favor of the newly implemented system of democracy although he was a descendant of an aristocratic family…so he was a friend of the common people and thus we already like him.

He was a student of Socrates, which pretty much means he went to both Harvard and Yale at the same time. He was a winner at the Olympic Games. By winner back then they meant first place only. Period. No Silver medal for second…despite the fact that silver is very fashionable and an easier match with all clothes.

He was handsome as hell. Women wanted him, men followed him, and opponents both admired and hated him. He was a politician, which means he had a high public profile.

Then again during that golden era, if you threw a rock in Athens you would probably hit either a politician or a philosopher. Last but not least, he was a General of Athens. Meaning he had power! In a few words, he was a rock star, the biggest influencer of his era, the prince charming for your daughters and absolute leadership material.

Alcibiades lived his most productive years during the greatest civil war of ancient Greece, the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BC). The main rivals were Athens and Sparta while Persia was playing “divide and conquer” with its gold. Well, this guy was great at pretty much everything but consistency wasn’t his thing.

First, he convinced Athenians to make a very adventurous and ballsy move, which was to sail to Sicily in order to conquer the territory by leveraging the strength of the almighty Athenian navy.

He faced great opposition as the city had to pay an arm and a leg for this expedition. Finally, he managed to convince the citizens by addressing the public feeling and need for glory. Sounds familiar? Well, he never really gave a heads-up by saying “You know, it’s an extremely ambitious plan and if it fails, we will become a sitting duck for Sparta”. But who wants to think about bad outcomes, anyway? While he was at the siege of Syracouses in Sicily, he got news that he was being accused of sacrilege, which is a fancy word for saying he offended the Gods, and had to go back to Athens to be tried in a court of law. And what did he do instead?

He fled to Sparta. He fled to the dark side. He gave Spartans powerful leads and advice to harm his native Athens and after making powerful enemies in Sparta he had to leave. In fact, let’s say a few things about that. You have probably seen the movie “300” so you know what Spartans looked like…big, powerful warriors you don’t want to mess with. I’m sure you also remember that their king Leonidas was a badass, not the kind of king who is laid back nor fluffy. So, back to our story, what Alciviades did was to sleep with the wife of the king of Sparta. So, first he betrayed his native Athens and now he had to leave the city he fled to because he couldn’t hold his pants.

Since Athens wasn’t an option and he was thrown out of Sparta, his next stop was Persia. Now serving as an advisor to satrap Tissaphernes. He managed to join all three sides of the war!

It was only after his strong Athenian connections brought him back as a savior that he returned to Athens bearing the title of the general. He actually tricked both by telling the Athenians that the Persians would help them win by providing them gold because of his liaison and in turn, he told the Persians that Athens would be their satellite. Spinning like a true politician, huh? And how his second chance ended? Well, he managed to get ostracized once again a few years and some victories and losses later.

So whenever you see Donald Trump, Teresa May or our owns truly Alexis Tsipras changing completely their standpoint from what they have promised to do before the elections or after the elections or yesterday or even the same day, don’t crucify them and call them liars, think that they lack most of the premium qualities that Alcibiades had and he still failed miserably to be consistent with himself and everybody else. Think about his vanity which diluted his moral standards and values even though Socrates was his teacher. And imagine being Socrates, the greatest philosopher of all times, the guy who actually drunk the poison just to be true to his values, having Alcibiades as a student! That thug! How embarrassing that would have been? And if it makes you feel any better, remember that Alcibiades was assassinated in exile and humiliated. Maybe that will be the fate of some of our modern leaders as well.

Bottom line, you can have all the right materials to become a great leader but if you don’t stay true to your values, people will eventually find out in the long run and stop trusting you. Cause values and trust are the main currencies of true leaders.

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Thomas Katakis
Born and raised in Greece, Thomas Katakis is a business executive with 14 years of experience in 5 blue-chip companies and an insatiable lust for art, sailing, history, and travel. Thomas Katakis is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.