Leadership Lessons from Greek Mythology 

We can glean many leadership lessons from ancient texts, and Greek mythology is one such body of text from which we can gain many insights of wisdom, which in turn can impart many important lessons in leadership for today’s age too. 

One of the important legendary conflicts in Greek mythology is the ten-year-long Trojan War between Greeks and the city of Troy. Though the history of the war may be disputed but some of its lessons are still relevant. 

Finding Achilles Heel 

At the Trojan War, from the killing of the great mythical warrior Achilles at the hands of the Trojan king Paris by shooting him in the heel (the only vulnerable body part in Achilles) we realise that everyone, however powerful he or she may be, is likely to have an ‘Achilles Heel.’ 

That can be an important leadership insight in modern day corporate warfare and by exploring and exploiting the ‘Achilles Heel’ of her/his business rival a leader can go ahead in business.

Using Trojan Horse 

Similarly, from the incident of Trojan Horse modern day leadership can learn that it is sometimes important to spring a surprise move to catch one’s rival unawares to win a decisive victory. Modern day leadership strategy sometimes requires latent or deceptive moves(of course within legal boundaries) behind apparently innocuous ones to outsmart one’s rival, which was mirrored in the ancient Greek mythology of Trojan War too.

Rescuing the Lotus Eaters 

In The Odyssey, we come to know the interesting story of the island of Lotus Eaters. There the people used to eat fruits and flowers from an enigmatic plant known as the lotus plant and after eating them used to enjoy their life in blissful inactivity; forgetting their home and loved ones. Here we can infer that such fruits and flowers of the mythical lotus plant were narcotics. 

Today the term Lotus Eaters refers to a group of people who spend their time in pleasure and luxury rather than dealing with life’s challenges and practical problems. Like Ulysses, whose fascinating adventures are recounted in The Odyssey, today’s corporate leaders should also take the resolve to rescue their teammates from the lure of being ‘lotus eaters.’ 

In our post-modern world, lotus eaters can also be used to describe people who are induced to inaction due to the drug of complacency. Even after a grand success, a leader should see that the celebration which may follow such a success doesn’t extend long enough to bring a sense of complacency among her/his teammates. 

Complacency and inaction together with greed for luxury and pleasure can spoil the performance of a team, and a business leader should take prompt preventive action to see that no Lotus Eater emerges in her/his team and even if Lotus Eaters emerge, she/he should proactively ‘cure’ those affected teammates through her/his inspiring leadership.

Curse of Midas 

Then from the King Midas in Greek mythology we learn that only craving for material well-being cannot bring happiness and rather it can eventually bring sorrow and despair. Midas asked Dionysus, the God of wine-making, orchards and fruit, vegetation, fertility, festivity, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre, the boon that whatever he touched should be changed to gold. He was granted the wish, which made the greedy Midas ecstatic initially. But soon he understood the huge latent price in his boon, when his food and drink also turned into gold. 

From the story of Midas, today’s and tomorrow’s leaders could learn not to hanker for short-term lucrative gains without thinking deeply about their long-term consequences. This pitfall has ruined many a businesses and even dynasties. The story of Midas Touch also gives credence to the saying of being careful of what you wish for, as it may come true. Leaders should be very prudent in their wish and in pursuing them.

The Danger of Power 

The story of the Sword of Damocles, which was first recorded by ancient Greek historian Timaeus of Tauromenium and later translated by the Roman statesman Cicero (106 BC -43 BC) shows the inherent danger (or the weight of immense responsibility in post-modern parlance) associated with immense power. 

Leaders running huge corporations should never forget the symbolic ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over their heads when making any important strategic decision. 

Punishment of Fruitless Labour 

From the myth of Sisyphus’ punishment, we can realise that fruitless labour is in fact one of the most harsh forms of punishments. Sisyphus was eternally punished in the underworld by Zeus, the sky and thunder god in Greek mythology, for tricking others and for cheating death twice. 

His eternal punishment involved taking a giant boulder to the top of a steep hill. Each time, just when he was about to take the boulder near the top of the hill, it would slip from his grasp and roll back to the bottom. Thus again he had to climb down, get behind the boulder and take it to the top of the hill. The process continues till eternity, thereby engaging Sisyphus in eternal fruitless labour.

From this story, modern managers and leaders should get the idea of the severe punishment and frustration involved in eternal fruitless labour and thus should always strive to engage her/his team members fruitfully, and preferably in work/s which interests them. Then only the managers and leaders can bring the best out of their team. The managers and leaders should also get the idea of changing the monotony of the work time and again so as to engage their team more fruitfully.

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