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.
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.
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.
What are you carrying that is unnecessary?
How do you handle an unstoppable enemy?
Alexander and his Greek army faced the Persians at the Battle of Arbela in 331 BC. Alexander’s bright armor shone in the sunlight, a beacon at the front of the Greek host. His troops followed, devoted to their leader, and ready to face what lies ahead.
The Persians had many advantages going into this battle, war elephants, overpowering numbers, and copious cavalry. But the scythed chariots were likely the most formidable.
This technology was dangerous, and fast. It was difficult to stop, and almost impossible to face head on. Darius had cleared the field in preparation for this battle. He had leveled the ground and removed vegetation, all so his chariots could have a clear avenue for their maneuvers. This was key to his strategy.
Alexander knew this and compensated for it. He didn’t attack through the main portion of the smooth battlefield, he aimed for the right side of the massed enemy and the rougher terrain on the outskirts of the field. Darius saw this and tried to stop him, consequently, the Persians attacked sooner than planned. And in a location less favorable to his strengths.
The Greek army had also prepared for the chariot with training and the exercise of discipline. They practiced a maneuver where the block of soldiers, called a phalanx, would split into two, away from an oncoming chariot, then like a trap move in behind and close off the front as well.
They also trained special soldiers with javelins and other weapons to take out weak spots of the chariots to disable them. By acting together, in concert, the Greek army eliminated the threat of the chariots.
The battle ended when Darius fled the field, and the rest of his army followed. Alexander was victorious yet again. This victory led to the end of the Persian empire and the spread of Greek culture through their lands.
When I looked closer I saw 2 more things Alexander the Great excelled at:
- When faced with a larger army, on a prepared battlefield, Alexander assessed his options, saw open, unprepared ground on his right, and forced his opponents to move, changing their plan.
- Alexander had to innovate how to fight the Persian chariots. The soldiers had to train, persist and work as a team, communicating consistently to make this tactic effective.
I have learned, that like Alexander the Great, when facing an obstacle, I can:
- Seek out options. Once I have a list of options, I then need to make a choice and move boldly on.
- I can study out something new/unfamiliar, seek inspiration, be creative. Then I can focus on the solution and act out the plan.
Alexander the Great was one of the greatest generals of all history.
Learn from him.
Lead like him.
What is your biggest obstacle right now? What options do you have?
Twenty Decisive Battles of the World, Lt.Col Joseph B. Mitchell & Sir Edward Creasy