In ancient history, Athens was at war with Sparta. After Athens survived the plague, and yearly attacks on her homeland, the people began to regain confidence. The Spartans had agreed to a ceasefire of sorts for a few years. Athens decided it was time to flex some muscle and become the ultimate power in the Mediterranean. They would do it by defeating Syracuse on the island of Sicily, hundreds of miles away.
Athens had trained the greatest navy of the ancient world, they built the grandest galleys, and had the best rowers.
But Athens had a bad habit of killing their generals when they lost. In an effort to enhance their chances, they sent three generals with equal authority on this expedition, Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus.
When the Athenians drew close to Sicily, the Athenians should have attacked directly, taking the Syracusans unprepared. But the three generals could not make a decision, one wanted to wait to gain allies, one wanted to attack, and the other, Alcibiades, was recalled to stand trial in Athens.
Alcibiades, it turns out instead of returning to his homeland, went to the enemy, Sparta. There he encouraged the Spartan assembly to join the Syracusans and fight against Athens in Sicily.
As a result, after three years and hundreds of miles, the campaign was lost, as was the whole of the expeditionary force. The galleys sunk, the survivors hunted down in the Sicilian wilderness.
Athens was on its way to ultimate defeat.
I have had times when I have struggled to make a decision, I know the clock is ticking, and that I need to make the call. But my personality dictates that I wait, and think, for a a few minutes at least.
I remember earlier in my career, I would make decisions about staffing, or about hours or pay with my team members out of fear. I was afraid they would sue me if I did something wrong. Don’t ask me where I got that idea, it just seemed to be the case.
I was afraid of making a mistake, and I was afraid of making someone mad. In doing so, I made some people mad anyway. It seems that some people will get mad no matter what you do. I gave an employee a raise once, because I thought she was expecting one, we couldn’t really afford to do it, so it was a small raise. She threw the biggest fit that she got such a small raise. The whole time I am thinking, I should have not given you the raise, then you could still be upset and I could keep my money too.
By making decisions out of fear, I hindered my ability to hire and work with the team I wanted. I slowed down the growth and progress of my business.
I hope I have learned from the Athenians that I can empower people to make decisions and that they won’t be penalized if they do their best. Learn from our mistakes, and don’t scare away your best team members because you’re afraid.
Thanks to Victor Davis Hanson’s book, A War Like No Other.
Athens lost the second Peloponnesian war.
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.
These causes are:
1) Insufficient preparation
2) Insecure leadership
3) Arrogance, not adapting to change
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(to be continued in Part 2…)
Thanks to Victor Davis Hanson’s book, A War Like No Other.
We rented the Avengers movie this weekend. I enjoyed it. It’s always nice to see a band of earthlings fight off a massive horde of aliens. Even if the earthlings are all freaks of some sort.
My wife and I were trying to decide who our favorite Avenger is. I have to go with Ironman, with Captain America a close second. I just appreciate Ironman’s unmitigated pride, and his delivery. He is also not chemically altered, pure human. Pure ego, but pure human.
They all have their strengths…and their weaknesses. They all complement one another and at the end of the day, they get the job done that Nick Fury hired them for.
I love looking at people’s strengths (check out my posts on strengths) and trying to maximize their potential.
We are hiring in our office right now and looking for a specific type of person, with specific strengths. Someone that will fill in the gaps in our team and help us get the job done. I will have them in the office for multiple interviews, and personality tests, like the DISC, Values, and possibly Strengths-Based. There’s no reason for me to hire the unknown quantity, I’ve done that before, and had to let them go shortly afterward. But not before they did damage to the existing team. I intend on finding out who this person is before they join our team and culture. One of my most important jobs as leader is to develop and then protect an excellent culture.
Just like the Avengers, right?
Wish me luck.
What is your process for hiring?
I saw Larry the cowboy again this last week. He attends my church, so I usually see him on Sundays. But seeing him this time reminded me of some more lessons he shared with me on horsemanship, and leadership.
He told me that horses, like people, need a few things to be effective companions and good workers.
Security. A safe place. Somewhere they can be comfortable and not feel harassed or in danger.
Friendship. Someone to talk to and get to know outside of the professional sphere.
A Leader. Not being afraid of confrontation. Knowing where you want to go and sharing that.
He also described one way he uses Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits in leading and rehabilitating his horses. He told me that he never appreciated the Seven Habits until he thought one day about his horses and how he could use it with them.
He said to First Seek to Understand. Before acting on a certain behavior, find out why, or what is causing the behavior. And then you can address the source, and not just the symptom.
Lastly, he said something that showed to me his passion for his profession. He said that a horse and a man are the ultimate team. They were meant to work together. They complement each other’s strengths and buoy up the weaknesses.
In summary, I learned from him that if I can provide security, friendship and be a leader, my team will be happy. If I seek to understand before I intervene, I will more likely help than hurt. And if the right team comes together, they can be…