A Leadership Lesson Part 2: Insecure Athenian Leadership

Athenian Galleys

Athenian Galleys

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.

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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.


Three Steps To Lighten Up Your Life

Photo Credit:  Renato Ganoza, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Renato Ganoza, Creative Commons

I got a new work bag.
I love it.

It’s light, and mostly empty.
My old bag was heavy and filled with junk I never used, but carried around everywhere.
Why did I do that?

I let the inertia of the old junky stuff drag me down everyday.

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I learned three things about this experience:
1. Unload the junk.
When I changed bags, I only moved the stuff I use, my iPad, a folder and a portable hard drive. That’s it. All the magazines, and receipts and loose change can get lost.
2. Keep it up
I bike to work a couple times a week and use a waterproof backpack. So on a regular basis, every week, I transfer over my three items, cleaning out anything that accumulated in the bottom of the other bag. This keeps me on the straight and narrow.
3. Don’t look back.
My burden is lighter as I travel to work. I don’t travel very far, so I can imagine if I did how much more of a difference it would make.
Now I have also taken this attitude to the rest of my life. What other junk is laying around my house that I need to get rid of? There is plenty I need to work on. Or also how much debt is dragging me down? All of this feels the same, lightening my burden by reducing the unnecessary.

I feel more in control of my life since my wife and I started purposefully eliminating our debt, since I changed work bags, and since I realized I can simplify one step at a time.

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What are you carrying that is unnecessary?


Don’t Excuse the Interruption

I loved my DVR when I had cable. Not only could I watch my shows when I wanted to, but I could do something even more profound.

I could skip the commercials.

Photo credit Pablo Torvinen

I could circumvent the negative side of television. It felt like I was cheating, almost. Why is that? What is so disdainful about the commercial breaks, and their attention-grabbing tactics?

It’s the interruption.
I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s 1999 book, “Permission Marketing“, and even though it is a little dated, he describes some concepts that are more true now than ever before.
Seth describes the dilemma of all marketers. He says that they are trying to grab the limited time and attention of the public. He says that “interruption marketers” try to take your attention away from your interest any time they can. If you are watching TV, they interrupt your program. If you are reading a magazine, they try to grab your eye as you turn the page. Or they pop up on your computer. I think of it as the type of marketing that people complain about. The annoying ads…
On the other side, “permission marketers” are trying to build a relationship with you. Instead of counting on love at first sight and running off to the wedding chapel, a permission marketer would go on a few dates first and then ask you to marry him.
In permission marketing, the person has to “opt-in” in order to receive material from you as the marketer. They have to give their permission because they are interested already. You have provided something of value for them, information, entertainment…and now they want more.
This process takes time, Seth Godin says you build these relationships by turning strangers into friends and friends into customers. He also says that this takes a leap of faith. It takes faith to put away the TV ads, the direct mail, and actually get to know people. Slow down and build trust with people, it can pay off in the end.

This can apply to a leader and her team as well. If she spends time with and gets to know the members of her team, they will trust her. She can help them reach their goals.

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How can you focus on relationships to turn strangers into friends, and friends into customers?