December 2018 Business SCAN
Throughout history, priests, academics, sages and wisemen have advised leaders on how to lead. How to wield power, conduct yourself with dignity, and inspire love or dread in your people: all these questions have been answered in different ways across the centuries.
A return to the past
“In those days, in those far remote days, in those nights, in those faraway nights, in those years, in those far remote years, at that time the wise one who knew how to speak in elaborate words lived in the Land.” So begins the Instructions of Shuruppak from the third millennium BC, one of the oldest surviving pieces of literature. This literature was advice to a king, how to behave themselves, how to treat others and how to prosper. The earliest writing we have is advice on how to be a leader.
The advice literature comes from a very different setting from modern businesses. However, the changing nature of leadership in the 21st century is placing leaders in similar situations to those of the past. Firms are not merely instrumental, but communities who don’t require the distant touch of a transactional leader, but a charismatic leader who relies on their personality. The hierarchical nature of leadership in the 20th century will be seen as a minor variation.
Here are some modern leadership concerns and responses to them from the past.
Modern teams are spread across countries and across time zones. A charismatic leader keeps the team together.
“If it is a prince who builds his power upon the people, and if he knows how to command and if he is courageous, does not despair and maintains the morale of his people by his spiritedness and the measures that he takes, he will never find himself let down.”
Machiavelli, 15th century
|BLURRED BOUNDARIES BETWEEN HOME AND WORK|
An increasing gig economy and flat hierarchies mean we are bringing more and more of our home selves to work. Keep some professional distance while being approachable.
“Let a man hold the cup, yet of the mead drink moderately, speak sensibly or be silent.”
Hávamál, 10th century
Employees need to feel able to contribute on their own terms to the ongoing success of the company.
“By grasping the neck of a huge ox, you can cross the river. By moving along at the side of mighty men of your city, you will certainly rise.”
Instructions of Shuruppak, 3rd millennium BC
Build trust with your employees by being present. This is as much in how you carry yourself as what you say.
“Nothing makes a prince so much esteemed as great enterprises and setting a fine example.”
Machiavelli, 15th century
Versatility across multiple areas is highly valued. The more skills the better leaders can navigate a constantly changing business environment.
“A warrior has come before the court and all the arts which help your people, he practices them all, so that he is the man of each and every art.’ ‘Let him into the court for a man like that has never come here.”
Cath Maige Tuired, 12th century
Sources: Raffnsøe, S., & Staunæs, D. (2014). Learning to stay ahead of time: Moving leadership experiences experimentally. Management and Organisational History, 9(2), 184-201; Christie, R. & Geis, F.L. (1970). Studies in Machiavellianism; Kelly, F. (1976). Audacht Morainn.
Consider yourself as a leader. How do these concerns apply to you? How can you best address them?
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