New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
As the Onassis Cultural Center in New York takes up the torch anew this season, continuing the On Truth and Lies Conversation (the discussion, Truth vs. Experience in Probing Reality, on October 2 at The New York Public Library)and other rich cultural offerings in its mission to disseminate the vast contributions of Hellenic civilization to the public, we briefly recap the Center’s last event of the summer just before the August hiatus of the GN, in order to not skip a beat.
The Panel Discussion Masters of Command and the Genius of Leadership, at The New York Public Library on June 26, tackled the question” What makes a leader?, a topic more urgent than ever as America prepares to elect a president, and one that goes back to Greece and Rome.
Using Barry Strauss’s new book, Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar and the Genius of Leadership as a jumping-off point, the three eminent scholars Williamson Murray, Walter R. Newell, and Barry Strauss wrestled with the eternal questions of leadership from three different perspectives, modern warfare, political theory, and history and classics.
Williamson Murray, Minerva Fellow, U.S. Naval War College, and Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University presented The Implications for Modern Leadership, Waller R. Newell, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Carleton University in Ottawa presented How Leaders Win and Lose: Advice from Machiavelli; and Barry Strauss, Professor of History and Classics at Cornell University presented Leadership Lessons from the Great Captains of Greece and Rome.
Professor Newell began by showing a photo of himself at Capri and related an anecdote about Tiberius throwing his astrologist into the sea, an anachronistic event that probably would not happen today. “There’s been some progress in leadership,” he said, “It’s not likely today that a pollster who messed up his predictions would be hurled from the top of Mount Rushmore by the president, if that’s the right comparison. Still, while some things about leadership have changed, there are some underlying constants that it’s important to remind ourselves of,” he said, going on to contrast some ancient personalities with modern ones, among them the young tyrant in Plato’s Laws Book. 4, Cicero, Octavian Caesar, and Machiavelli.
Eventually returning to his anecdote about Capri, he said, “Just as leaders probably won’t throw their pollsters into the sea today, we can’t expect leaders to be completely frank about their own ambition and love of honor, even when these are for completely benevolent democratic goals.”
Not so far back in time, leaders such as De Gaulle, and Churchill–certainly after their careers were over–were a bit more candid than Lincoln, in his Lyceum speech, toyed with whether greater glory came to the man who saved the republic or overthrew it, said Newell, but for whatever reason, that has given way in more recent years to the refrain that politicians only want to serve, only want to give back something of the benefits they have received, etc. “This is not necessarily insincere, but not the whole story,” he concluded, “That’s why it’s up today’s scrittori to provide that wider and more candid view, we who aspire to be observers of politics. And that’s why books like Barry Strauss’s are so important.”
In his presentation Professor Strauss named Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Julius Caesar as the three greatest warrior leaders of the ancient world, as exemplifying qualities that still apply to leaders today. This is true not just in the military but also in business, because a successful corporation has a lot in common with a great army, said Strauss, pointing out that although there are many good case studies in business leadership drawn from history they usually come from American history and so have limited value in the global marketplace. “My three leaders are international icons, household words around the world, and so useful in business practically everywhere,” he said.
He went on to say that Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Julius Caesar were “conquerors, not consolidators”, “Their main value is for transformative leadership. That is, a case where: “someone took control of the situation by conveying a clear vision of the group’s goals, a marked passion for the work and an ability to make the rest of the group feel recharged and energized” , he said, quoting from an article in About.com *
All three of these men won great victories with small armies, he said, naming their conquests: Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, which stretched from modern Turkey and Egypt to modern Uzbekistan and India, Hannibal crossed the Alps with his army, including 37 elephants, inflicted the worst defeats on the Romans they ever had, marched to the gates of Rome, and brought over half of Italy to his side, where he stayed for 15 years. After conquering Gaul, Caesar conquered the entire Roman Empire, against the legally constituted government with its treasury, armies, navy, and popular support, said Strauss.
And all of these great warriors shared the following attributes: Strategy – long-term vision; Judgment – the ability to make the right decision and to make it quickly; Leadership – communication skill: the ability to project both commanding authority and a common touch that binds ordinary soldiers to them; Audacity – boldness, risk-taking, and willingness to do what people say can’t be done; and Agility – the ability to change course quickly, to compete in a variety of environments.
Go to: onassisfoundationusa.org, for upcoming events.