Athens Lost To Sparta: A Leadership Lesson, Part 1

The Double Walls of Athens

The Double Walls of Athens

Athens lost the second Peloponnesian war.

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This pinnacle of democracy, freedom, and culture lost a war they could have won after twenty-seven years of fighting. There are numerous arguments, reasons and possibilities as to why, but here are a few contributing factors. Alone, these problems may not have caused the city’s downfall, but altogether, they just might have.

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These causes are:
1) Insufficient preparation
2) Insecure leadership
3) Arrogance, not adapting to change
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When the feared Spartan infantry invaded Athenian lands, Pericles ordered all citizens inside the city walls. Athens had astounding ability and funds to build temples, sanctuaries and walls. They built a vast democratic, civilized society. One of their many accomplishments was a double wall from the city to their port, so they never lost their connection to the sea.
Pericles decided that they could hold out longer than the invading army within their walls.

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The Spartan army was away from home and needed to forage the countryside for supplies. The Athenians had stored food and they had access to their port, so they could get supplies as they needed. But in the heat, the sudden increase in population overwhelmed the sewers and water supply. People slept in the streets and filth was everywhere.
When the Spartans went back to their lands for the winter, the crowd of rural Athenians went back to their farmland. But the Spartans came back the next summer. This time Athens suffered even more.

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When the streets were crowded, the sewers overflowing and heat suffocating, plague struck. Thousands died, bodies lined the streets, and Athens was paralyzed. Their leader for twenty years, Pericles, died. The people were despondent.

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The democracy of Athens was under attack both from foreign power and by biology. The Athenian leaders had prepared for attack by building the walls, but they had not prepared for the numbers of refugees that would inhabit their city, multiple seasons in a row. There was not adequate water and infrastructure to house and keep people safe. They did not have the advantage of understanding the nature of disease, but some changes could have been made after the first season of refugees, and they weren’t.
And thousands died.
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How do we get sidetracked, or invested in one thing so heavily that we overlook the problems under our noses? I have done that when I have had trouble at our office, things are a little disorganized, and I get distracted trying to put out fires. I then don’t have time to dedicate to the “Quadrant II” activities (Stephen Covey taught the important but not urgent activities are Quadrant II) that will prevent future problems. So then things get really out of hand.

Focus on the important things, prepare, but don’t be single-minded. Listen to others and to your intuition or you may miss the signs of your own plague.

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(to be continued in Part 2…)

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Thanks to Victor Davis Hanson’s book, A War Like No Other.

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One Comment on “Athens Lost To Sparta: A Leadership Lesson, Part 1”

  1. […] Athens Lost To Sparta: A Leadership Lesson, Part 1 (michaellemme.wordpress.com) […]


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