Leadership Lessons From Alexander The Great

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Jan 22, 2024 by Sean Luce

During a recent European trip, I noticed that the influence of Alexander the Great is still felt this day in Europe and Asia - some 2400 years after his death.

There's been a resurgence of interest in Alexander because of the new film Alexander. This man is an interesting study in the art of leadership, and today's leaders should take note. Here are some of Alexander's lessons for general managers and sales managers:

Strategic Planning: When Alexander left Macedonia to conquer Persia, he took surveyors, engineers, architects, scientists, court officials and historians. Once he left home, he left nothing to chance - he couldn't afford to stop his campaigns and wait for the "Army Corps of Engineers" to build a bridge. Speed was essential for Alexander. Through his travels of 21,000 miles, (remember, this was on horse and foot, not in a new Porsche Cayenne), Alexander had to backtrack only once in his journeys across Europe and Asia.This is amazing, considering he didn't have a GPS in 334-323 BC.

Policy of Assimilation: Some historians look at Alexander as the father of mergers and acquisitions. In less than 10 years, Alexander became ruler of half the known world, and he managed to hold his empire together less by force, than by the astute policy of assimilation. Newly acquired Persian territories were not told to "fall in line," but instead, were encouraged to retain their local administrative structure and culture. Aristotle had taught Alexander to think of the Greeks as the only free men, and all others as slaves, but Alexander disagreed. He admired the Persians' organizational ability, and instead of ruling over them, he decided to rule with them. He insisted that his leaders adopt local customs and respect local religious faith.

If that were applied to our industry, a new general manager wouldn't "blow out" almost everybody because they weren't "his people." He would give his acquired employees a chance to prove themselves, producing less resentment from the "conquered" and more immediate productivity - not downtime and lost revenue through replacing personnel who may have excelled.

Lead from the Front: Alexander was admired by his troops. He rode and walked in front of them; he didn't ride behind them in a golden carriage. He ate the same rations and drank the same amount of water that his troops had. Alexander knew exactly how far and how fast his army could march, and he knew their physical and emotional state before battle. Note to GMs: When was the last time you put your ego on hold and rode a full day with one of your sales reps? Have you ever worked a shift with your receptionist, who is the first line of contact with your customers?

After his last battle, Alexander gave the following speech (transcribed by me from a plaque in the Thessaloniki airport). Even George W. Bush could take note of some of Alexander's leadership lessons, as he begins his second term as a world leader - circa 21st century. I know general managers who could use this advice, too:

The Oath of Alexander

"It is my wish now, that the wars are coming to an end, that you should all be happy in peace. From now on, let all mortals live as one people, in fellowship, for the good of all. See the whole world as your homeland, with laws common to all, where the best will govern regardless of their race. Unlike the narrowminded, I make no distinction between Greeks and Barbarians. The origin of citizens, or the race into which they were born, is of no concern to me. I have only one criterion in which to distinguish them - virtue. For me, any good foreigner is a  Greek, and any bad Greek is worse than a Barbarian. If disputes ever occur among you, you will not resort to weapons, but will solve them in peace. If need be, I shall arbitrate between you. See God not as an autocratic despot, but as a common father to all, and thus your conduct will be like the lives of brothers within the same family. I, on my part, see all of you as equal, whether you are white or dark-skinned. And I should like you not simply to be subjects of my commonwealth, but members of it, partners of it. To the best of my ability, I shall strive to do what I have promised. Keep as a symbol of love this oath, which we have taken tonight with our libations.

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