Leadership in some form or fashion is taught in every college and university on the planet and has been practiced in every organization that ever existed. Despite that omnipresence, as well as society’s fascination with leadership and ample journalistic treatment of what appears to be a perennial “leadership crisis,” many executives lack a framework to evaluate and improve their own leadership. “Good” and “bad” leadership remains for the most part a subjective, bordering-on-mood-based assessment.
For the past six months, I have been working with a group of early-, mid- and late-stage leaders to better understand the changing state of leadership. To get the ball rolling, stretch the mind and precipitate animated conversation, I asked this group of IT leaders if the traits that made Alexander “great” were still relevant today. They concluded that leadership has evolved significantly in the 2,400 years since the boy king conquered most of the known western world, with contemporary leaders perceived as being more community-focused.
End of story? Far from it. The tension between the two extremes of leadership style has been studied for millennia. As Emma Dench, the McLean professor of ancient and modern history and of the classics at Harvard University who co-teaches a popular elective course at Harvard Business School called “All Roads Lead to Rome: Leadership Lessons from Antiquity,” explains, “The Romans grappled actively with a very central issue of leadership: How much is a leader for themselves — or how much are they for the people as a whole. … ‘Is it just you on an island, or are you part of a community?’ ”