Alexander – A great leader

17 February 2015 11:48 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The Great Man theory argues that great men and women take a lead and shape history rather than being merely shaped by it. In effect, it relies on an ‘inside-out’ model of human psychology. Success emerges from the active ‘push’ of individuals than the passive ‘pull’ of environmental forces acting on them. As the name implies, Alexander the Great is one such individual historians refer to elaborate on the Great Man theory.

Alexander – 23 centuries after his death, even today his name has the power to inspire. His achievements have stood the test of time and remain amongst the most remarkable in the whole annals of military history. With an army of around 40,000 men, he conquered the largest (closer to one million soldiers), richest and most powerful empire the world had ever seen and all of this in less than a decade. Herewith we elaborate on the dominant leadership traits displayed by Alexander the Great that may help to inspire present day leaders.

Creating the vision - Leaders i n an organisation are responsible for setting the course for that organisation, whether it is a business endeavour, a religious calling, a charity or any other group of people. The leader’s vision for that group can have a profound impact on the efforts and outcomes of the organisation. Having a clear vision or goal that can be shared and bought into by others will increase the energy level of any organisation, as everyone works together to reach the goal or realize the vision.

The young Alexander inherited his vision largely from his father but it was Alexander who was able to put the vision into action. In 490 and 480, the Persians had attacked Greece, first under King Darius and then under Xerxes. In 490 the Athenians had successfully repelled the Persian invasion at Marathon and 10 years later a combined Greek force defeated another Persian expeditionary force but not until the Persian army had devastated much of Greece andAthens in particular.

Over 150 years later, Alexander used the destruction of Athens as his pretext for a military campaign against Persia (creating a common cause – vision). As a general, Alexander possessed that all important power of being able to sum up t he i nevitably confused situations on battlefields and then t o take t he appropriate action in a calm, effective way. He had a sure intuition – a feeling for the real situation long before it becomes clear to others.

Communicating the vision - As an inspirer or motivator of soldiers, it is hard to think of anyone in history who excelled Alexander. He shared in the men’s dangers, as the scars of his wounds testified. Alexander would remind them on occasion that he ate the same food as they did. He was highly visible. He gave instructions but he also spoke many words of encouragement backed up by rewards for outstanding efforts. In the assault which followed, he fought hard himself but he was ever on the watch for any acts of conspicuous courage in the face of danger amongst his men. Alexander had a great ability to endear himself to his soldiers and he was able to use this positive relationship to accomplish more than any other general in the ancient world.

Live your values - One night at the Gaugamela battle front, the armies of Alexander and Darius, King of Persia, came in sight of each other. The noise and campfires of the vast barbarian camp were so frightening that some of Alexander’s generals advised a night attack because it would be too dangerous to take on such a huge force in daylight. But Alexander replied: “I will not steal victory.”

Model the way - One day, Alexander fell behind the rest of his army because his old teacher, Lysimachus could not keep up. Night found Alexander in a very dangerous position: far behind his army and without any fire to combat the cold. He noticed some enemy campfires, so he ran over to one, killed two soldiers with his knife and then carried back a burning stick to his men. This was typical of Alexander -- he was always encouraging his men by a personal example of readiness to work and face danger.

Care for people - Between 30,000 and 43,000 infantry and between 3,000 and 4,000 horsemen followed Alexander i nto Asia Minor [334 B.C.]. He had only 70 talents (Greek currency) for their pay and no more than 30 days’ provisions. Alexander was in debt over 200 talents, having spent everything he had in making sure that his best men were able to provide for their families. When one of his generals asked what he had kept for himself, Alexander answered: “My hope.” On hearing this, thegenerals refused the pension that Alexander offered them, saying: “Your soldiers will be your partners in that.”

Reward people - Another time, one of the soldiers was driving a mule that carried some of Alexander’s treasure. The mule was too exhausted to go on, so the soldier put the load on his shoulders.Alexander saw the man staggering along and he asked what the matter was. The soldier told him that the mule was too tired to carry the load and that he was about at the end of his endurance too. “Don’t give up now,” said Alexander, “but carry what you have there to the end of the journey, then take it to your own tent, to keep for yourself.”

Dare to innovate - In the city of Gordium, Alexander accepted the challenge of the Gordian knot. A very intricate knot tied together the yoke of an ancient chariot, and there was a legend that whoever could undo the knot would become the master of the world. Alexander pulled out his sword and chopped through the Gordian knot, instead of involving himself in its mysterious entanglements.

These incidents offer us an understanding of why Alexander truly deserves the title of ‘The Great’. But was his epic achievement a result only of his remarkable leadership skills and courage? In the words of a fellow Greek – Euripedes, ‘Courage is nothing if the gods withhold their aid’. Can one say the same for leadership skills too?

(This is the fourth column of the leadership series by the writer. Eng. Gamini Nanda Gunawardana [B.Sc. Eng. (Hons.); M.B.A.; C.Eng.; F.I.E. (SL); M.C.S. (SL); M.I.D.P.M. (UK); F.I.A.P. (UK); M.B.C.S.(UK)], a Management, HR, OD and ICT Consultant, Corporate Trainer, Consultant - HRD - GoodhopeAsia Holdings Ltd, can be contacted at, Skype : gamini7147)


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