How to Be a Leader | Plutarch

Summary of: How to Be a Leader: An Ancient Guide to Wise Leadership
By: Plutarch


Welcome to our summary of ‘How to Be a Leader: An Ancient Guide to Wise Leadership’ by Plutarch. This book delves into the motivations behind leadership, the importance of character, and the guidance leaders must provide for the greater good. Throughout this summary, we’ll explore valuable advice from ancient times, featuring historical figures like Cato the Elder, Pericles, and Theopompus, that are relevant to today’s leaders. Learn how proper motives, impeccable character, wisdom, eloquence, and experience contribute to effective leadership, and embark on a journey through time to understand the principles that have stood the test of time.

Leading with the Right Motivations

People who desire to lead others must understand their true motivations before stepping up to lead a community or society. According to Plutarch’s teachings, ambitious leaders should be driven by a sense of duty and honor, rather than a desire for glory and recognition as these self-aggrandizing motives can be detrimental to the community. Cato the Elder, a Roman politician, is an example of a true leader who put the welfare of Rome above his personal reputation. This principle is essential for electing capable, driven, and motivated leaders for any society or institution.

The Importance of Impeccable Character in Leadership

Leaders should not seek public applause as it is unlikely to materialize due to people’s propensity to criticize. Therefore, it is essential for leaders to have spotless characters to avoid scandals, condemnation, and ultimately, failure. Pericles, a great Athenian statesman, serves as a prime example of a leader with impeccable character. In contrast, Alcibiades, an Athenian politician, was forced into exile twice due to his extravagance, recklessness, and indecency. The lesson here is that leaders should anticipate criticism and avoid it by living spotlessly and dedicating themselves to their work.

Guided by Reason

Plutarch, an ancient Greek philosopher, believed that leaders should be guided by wisdom and reason. According to him, leaders must learn to live in accordance with reason before they can guide others. He identified the principle of reason with God himself, and just as God rules the universe benevolently and in accordance with reason, so too should leaders govern their citizens. Plutarch contrasted the behavior of two Greek rulers, Aristodemus and Theopompus, to demonstrate the importance of reason in leadership. Aristodemus was paranoid and ruled for his own welfare, while Theopompus granted others a role in governing Sparta and aimed to promote stability through reason. Plutarch’s message is that leaders who are guided by reason and wisdom are more effective than those who are not.

The Power of Persuasion

In democratic Athens, leaders had to win over the Athenians through speaking eloquently and persuasively. Pericles was a politician who exemplified this skill, successfully convincing his fellow citizens to remain neutral in times of conflict. His persuasiveness led to Athens’ continued peace, but after his death, ineffective leadership led to disastrous military campaigns. The lesson learned is that leaders should possess the power of persuasion to foster unity and prevent disastrous decisions.

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