Back to Blogs
Blog Img

Modern leadership wisdom from the ancient greeks

​With all the modern management theories and productivity hacks floating around the blogosphere, I thought that I would take a minute to slow things down and hark back to some wisdom that has lasted the test of time. Here is some food for thought for today’s leaders from the finest minds of ancient Greece:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle.Actually, great leaders are great because they do the same things, over and over again. Like Steve Job’s black polo neck jumper, if it works for you, why change it? Reinventing the wheel is rarely necessary when you are confident in your direction.

“Count each day as a separate life.” Seneca.Each dawn brings new possibilities. If leaders didn’t think in this way, then their businesses would be riddled with recriminations and witch hunts. If is important to learn from the past, but there is nothing more important than the “here and now.” Set your goals for the day, the week and the month and measure your success accordingly.

“Know how to listen and you will profit even from those who talk badly.” Plutarch.Great listening doesn’t depend on the richness of the message or the experience of the person delivering it. Even the most inexperienced intern can provide insights of such brilliant simplicity that others may miss. Careful listening (to everyone) is the hallmark of a great leader.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus.Today will never be the same as tomorrow, ideas are never fixed in stone, and you will never stop developing. As a leader of a business in a fast paced world, if you stand still, you go backwards.

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Socrates.As technology allows us to pack our days with increasingly more activity, it is easy to lose sight of what is truly worthwhile. Ensure your business has a laser focus on its deliverables and ensures that the cult of “busyness” does not drag your team into the mire.

“Courage is knowing what not to fear.” Plato.For any leader, the peril of making any decision lies in the uncertainty of the result. It is all too easy to build up the terrible consequences in your head, but most of the time things will turn out fine. Rational problem-solving beats irrational fire fighting every time.

“Make the best use of what’s in your power and take the rest as it happens.” Epictetus.This is the ultimate in practical advice. The business leaders who picture themselves as superheroes are often left disillusioned and burnt out. You can’t do it all, and your team can’t either, no matter how many MBAs they have between them. There are limits to human endeavour – it is fine to push these limits, but you have to acknowledge that they are there nonetheless. Do your best with what you have and it will often be good enough.