Successful leadership isn’t about leading from afar

Successful leadership isn’t about stamping authority, leading from afar, issuing directives that are all façade with no depth of understanding behind them. It’s a motivating force that comes from watching a good leader march forwards, showing the way, and inspiring others to follow. It is no surprise that when we think of strong leaders, we often pull out the military metaphors, many of the great leaders through history are famed for their leadership abilities. Alexander III of Macedon or Alexander the Great, a man who by the age of 26 had conquered over 2 million miles of territory comprising most of the ancient world is one such leader. He led his men into battles were they were grossly outnumbered, yet with Alexander leading the way his men were confident that they could succeed. Hundreds of centuries after Alexander’s death, his military tactics are still discussed, and his almost mythical status as one of the great leaders lives on. In this, our first of a series of articles looking at what ancient leaders can teach us about leadership, we look at the techniques Alexander used which are relevant today.

Ensure your team are 100% behind you

To be successful in the offensive, somewhat unorthodox military techniques Alexander used, he needed to ensure his men were 100% behind him. He did this by battling alongside his men, often leading the attack, never asking others to do what he would not, or had not, done many times before. This is immeasurably important to followers, if they feel that their leader understands their role, has done it before, and is willing to step in and lend a hand, then loyalty develops. If they feel that their leader would stand up for them when needed, taking the blows as one of them, their loyalty expands. In the modern world, employees want leaders they know they can count on, who has empathy for their struggles and is willing to defend them if the need arises. That is not to say that Alexander never had opposition from his men, experiencing two refusals from his army to go any further when reaching rivers, good leaders know that they have a loyal following who only raise concerns when they are valid.

Psychological strength is important

Whilst developing physical strength was of course important to Alexander, psychological strength was equally so. Before battles, Alexander would giving empowering speeches to motivate his soldiers telling them that despite the obstacles they would face, they would succeed. Almost certainly, if Alexander were a player in the workplaces of today, he would be a transformational leader, who aimed to transform the goals and aspirations of his employees, helping them to be the best that they could be, to excel and to achieve. Perhaps as a results of their inherent charisma and ability to connect psychologically, appealing to emotions and consciousness, transformational leaders have followers who are devoted and loyal. Followers want to do well for their leader, be it on the battlefield or the boardroom. In the 21st century we still want leaders like Alexander, who not only have strength and belief in their own abilities, but in the abilities of their followers. Employees want to see their leader working hard, with ambition and drive that is not confined to their own attainment, but to the attainment of the team overall; historical sources assert that Alexander would proclaim: “Upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all”.

Other things Alexander can teach us as modern leaders

As to other things Alexander can teach us as modern leaders: adaptability, image management and mentoring leap out as desirable skills. Alexander was undoubtedly adaptable, willing and ready to change strategy as the environment altered, not being fazed by a multitude of different battlefields. As the terrain and conditions changed, Alexander would alter his tactics to achieve his goal; the modern leader takes account of prevailing market conditions in their strategic and tactical planning. The modern leader is also aware, as Alexander was, of their image; of ensuring successes are celebrated and recorded; remember that everyone wants to a part of the winning team. Finally, leaders need mentors too, Alexander had Aristotle and whilst he didn’t always take his advice (most notably regarding ethnic fusion), a sounding board for ideas is always desirable.

Sadly, the end for Alexander came too soon, aged 32 in Babylon in 323 BC, the cause is debated but is almost certainly the result of one of the many perils incumbent of the age for a great man such as him, poisoning being one such theory. The perils we face as leaders today may not (we hope) be as dangerous as those faced by Alexander, indeed our actions and responses are moderated as befits the age, but the core skills Alexander of Macedon employed as a leader, his team mentality, his inspiring and motivational style, his willingness to work alongside rather than above, are as relevant to the leader today as to the leader of 326BC.

About the Author

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London,, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi and Vishakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors. Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.