Leading By Example

Mike Beckham

I was thinking recently about the qualities leaders display that make them so influential. What is it about a leader that makes others instinctively respect them and want to follow them? Last time, I talked about how integrity is probably the most important quality for a leader to possess. I think a few stories about Alexander the Great give great insight into another quality that people admire and will follow.

Alexander was a Greek-born prince. When he was still around the age of a college student, his father was murdered and Alexander became the ruler of one of the most prominent city-states in Greece. He quickly used his power to gain control over the entire country of Greece. From there, Alexander launched a huge military campaign that, by its end, had conquered most of the know world. There are two events along that way that stick out in my mind about him.

The first was an epic military battle. When Alexander began his campaign, the ruling power of the day was the Persian Empire. It controlled a huge area of land and as a result of the many cities it controlled, it had a massive army. The ruler of the Persian Empire was Darius III. As Alexander became more and more aggressive, it became evident that a clash between the Persian and Greek forces was inevitable.

The two sides finally met in the massive Battle of Issus. Alexander and his men were at a huge disadvantage from a numbers perspective. In fact, many historical accounts claim that they were outnumbered almost 2 to 1 by the Persian forces. From a practical standpoint, they faced almost insurmountable odds. However, they had in Alexander a general with a keen understanding of motivating his men.

Usually, the general of an army would be at the back of his forces and would be dressed in a disguise so that opposing archers would not shoot him. That made him almost impossible for the enemy to get to and it also allowed him to retreat if his army began to lose the battle. Alexander, however, took a completely different approach to leading his men during battle. Instead of dressing in a non-descript way, he wore a special helmet with a huge feather plume in it. It was his way of telling the opposing army exactly who he was. He also chose to lead his men into battle instead of staying in a protected position behind his forces. The effect these actions made was dramatic. Alexander’s forces knew that their leader would fight alongside them and would not ask anything of them that he himself was unwilling to give.

As a result of his leadership, the Greeks not only won the Battle of Issus, but they absolutely smashed the Persian forces. It was said that Darius was afraid of Alexander. When Darius chose to retreat from the pursuing Alexander, the rule of the Persian Empire was over.

Another example of Alexander’s dedication to his men occurred later in his military campaign when his army was marching through the desert. It had been many days since they had access to water. Men were literally dying of thirst and falling by the wayside as a result of heat exhaustion. Some of Alexander’s best soldiers had found a small oasis of water and they were able to gather one helmet full of water for Alexander to drink. When they brought the water to Alexander, he held it up in front of all his men and then poured it out in front of them. If his men could not drink water, he would not drink water.

My takeaway from the life of Alexander is that he would not ask anything of his men that he was not willing to do himself. Leading others requires an understanding of this concept. If we want to lead, we must be willing to lead by example. Leadership is about motivating others to come and work alongside us. Leadership is not convincing and motivating others to do things that we are not willing to do.

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