It is popular to gain “advice” from historical characters about management. The logic seems to be that the higher the body count of the historical character the more wisdom they have to impart. There are various approaches, Robert’s take on Attila the Hun goes for humor. Leandro Martino’s book on Alexander the Great takes a more serious tone. We hear about how Alexander achieved a variety of unlikely successes. The story is an interesting one but I’m not sure that justifies the book. (I should confess that I don’t understand people who glorify Alexander. To me he is just — an admittedly hardworking and goal-driven — mass murderer with a dashing hairdo). So should we be emulating Alexander The Great?
Emulating Alexander The Great
I’m sure there are potential lessons from Alexander’s leadership but the linkage of battle strategies to modern business situations isn’t usually perfect. This isn’t helped by Martino’s attempt to group anecdotes by theme rather than chronology. This can be confusing and glosses over the very different challenges faced. The teenage Alexander who inherited his kingdom had very different management issues to the thirty-something Alexander doing a last days of Elvis impression after returning from the (largely pointless but bloody) invasion of India.
Too often analysis of historical figures doesn’t get beneath the headlines of the stories. For instance, when describing how Alexander honored Persian nobles with places at court Martino ascribes this to valuing diversity. This isn’t necessarily wrong but it should be understood that Alexander was managing the coalitions in his subjects. The “great” man was probably actively trying to lessen the relative power of the Macedonian nobility through elevating the Persians. He was likely playing the groups against one another. (There were attempts on Alexander’s life from the Macedonian nobles at the time which hints at this).
Admiring Imperialism: Do We Still Do That?
Probably the greatest problem with Martino’s analysis is that he clearly admires Alexander so much.
“A genius in the art of planning, Alexander had an important advantage over his enemies.”Martino, 2008, page 217
So the lesson from Alexander to all aspiring leaders is: be a genius. To be honest, being a genius probably benefits one in numerous activities. Having a dashing hairdo and looking good on a tetradrachm coin may also help.
Read: Leandro P. Martino (2008) Leadership and Strategy: Lessons From Alexander the Great, Booksurge Publishing