Leadership Lessons From Alexander The Great


Alexander became king when only 20 and in an amazing eleven-year journey of conquest rode 10,00 miles, fought 70 battles without losing a single one and conquered all the way from Egypt to India – half the known world of those times. All this in a life spanning a mere 32 years! Obviously an achievement of such epic proportions could not have happened without the display of some amazing leadership qualities. What leadership qualities of Alexander made historians label him ‘Great’? Here are some of the incidents from the short life of Alexander, that are illustrative of his leadership style and which we could take lessons from.

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:

  1. Have An action orientation: Action was what Alexander wanted from life. He hated a life of comfortable sloth. When he heard of the conquests of his father, King Philip of Macedonia, Alexander was not happy about the additional wealth and power that he would inherit, but instead was sad that there would be less left for him to conquer. Alexander often lamented to his friends that the way things were going nothing would be left for him to do once he became king!
  2. Care for your people: Between 30,000 and 43,000 infantry and between 3,000 and 4,000 horsemen followed Alexander into Asia Minor [334 B.C.]. He had only 70 talents (Greek currency) for their pay, and no more than thirty days’ provisions. Alexander was 200 talents in debt, 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, the general refused the pension that Alexander offered him, saying: “Your soldiers will be your partners in that.”
  3. Be seen caring for your people: After covering four hundred miles in eleven days in the battle against King Darius, Alexander and his soldiers were nearly dead from thirst. Some Macedonian scouts had brought back a few bags of water from a distant river, and they offered Alexander a helmet-full. Although his mouth was so dry that he nearly was choking, he gave back the helmet with his thanks and explained: “There is not enough for everyone, and if I drink, the others will faint.” When his men saw this, they spurred their horses forward and shouted for him to lead them. With such a king, they said, they would defy any hardships.
  4. 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.
  5. Lead by personal example / Lead from the Front:: 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, 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. 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?
  6. Live your values: One night at Gaugamela, 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.”
  7. Reward your people: Another time, one of the common 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 own shoulders. Alexander saw the man staggering along, and he asked what was the matter. 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.”
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

After his last battle, Alexander gave the following speech (transcribed by me from a plaque in the Thessaloniki airport). We all could take note of some of Alexander’s leadership lessons. 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 narrow-minded, 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.

These incidents offer us an understanding of why Alexander truly deserved the title of ‘The Great’.

About anasebrahem

2 Responses to Leadership Lessons From Alexander The Great

  1. Well I can’t really say about the other parts of the world but Westerns leaders have always note of and studied the leadership skills and strategies of Alexander the Great. Anybody who wants to write about him will find that there is a wealth of information on the man. ( http://wizzley.com/alexander-the-great-god-king-or-mere-mortal/ )

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