10 Classic and Enduring Rules of Great Leadership

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Mar 26, 2015

The special qualities of remarkable leaders are complex and rare.

Leadership requires the courage to fashion a code of conduct governed by principled conviction, so reviewing the writings of Classical philosophers is a good place to begin our journey towards becoming more effective leaders.

Michael Soupios and Panos Mourdoukoutas did just that for their book, The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership, and discovered the ancient philosophies remain relevant today.

Here are the 10 Golden Rules of Leadership:

  1.  “Know Thyself” – Thales. We all possess a powerful tendency to obscure, distort and fictionalize on behalf of a fabricated reality. But as leaders, we must commit to an agenda of spirited self-assessment and bring transparency to our hidden motives and identities.
  2.  “Office Shows the Person” – Pittacus. Giving someone power reveals their inner qualities, and whether or not they’ve disposed of the psychological deficiencies that negate the possibility of real leadership.
  3.  “Nurture Community at the Workplace” – Plato. The Greek philosopher Plato insisted that “there is no greater evil than discord and faction and no greater good than the bonds of communal sentiment.” Foster a culture of cooperation and collaboration.
  4. Do Not Waste Energy on Things You Cannot Change” – Aristophanes. Considered “the greatest representative of ancient Greek comedy,” Aristophanes wrote in his play titled Peace, “Never will you make the crab to walk straight.” Assume a posture of flexible response.
  5. Always Embrace the Truth” – Antisthenes. Honest assessment is an essential requirement of effective leadership, but the higher you rise on the corporate ladder, the less likely you’ll be to receive complete and accurate information. Seek the truth.
  6. Let Competition Reveal Talent” – Hesiod. One of the earliest Greek poets, Hesiod suggested that competition that releases selfishness is destructive, but competition that releases ingenuity and creativity is constructive. Embrace competition as an opportunity for excellence and personal development.
  7. Live Life by a Higher Code” – Aristotle. Considered along with Socrates and Plato to have laid the groundwork for Western philosophy, Aristotle wrote, “When it comes to the great-souled individual, personal honor, not ego, is the ultimate priority and concern.” Leaders are held to a higher and more rigorous standard than others.
  8.  “Always Evaluate Information with a Critical Eye” – The Skeptics. Leaders should never assume the information they receive isn’t tainted by hidden agendas. But Socrates also reminds us that “we must be vigilant against the conceits of wisdom and that we are all strongly inclined to assume we understand things that in truth we fail to genuinely comprehend.”
  9.  “Never Underestimate the Power of Personal Integrity” – Sophocles. In Sophocles’ play Philoctetes, a character believes the ends justify the means; “one should not allow moral concerns to impede the necessities of practical achievement.” In the face of this seductive idea, the other character responds, “I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.” Don’t rationalize wrong behavior.
  10. Character Is Destiny” – Heraclitus. Our character determines the course of our lives. While we can’t control the world around us, a well-formed character is the priceless reward paid to those who have done the hard work of coming to know themselves.

Achieving the rank of a genuine leader is a daunting task that many will find prohibitively challenging. However, for those willing to invest the time and effort, the payoff – especially for their employees – is well worth it.

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