The Wisdom of Alexander the Great | Lance B. Kurke

Summary of: The Wisdom of Alexander the Great: Enduring Leadership Lessons From the Man Who Created an Empire
By: Lance B. Kurke


Dive into the leadership lessons from Alexander the Great in Lance B. Kurke’s book, ‘The Wisdom of Alexander the Great: Enduring Leadership Lessons From the Man Who Created an Empire’. Discover how Alexander utilized four fundamental approaches to reshape reality: reframing problems, building alliances, establishing new identities, and manipulating symbols. Learn from his tactical prowess, ability to maintain command, and adaptability to different cultures. This book summary offers valuable insights not only for leaders in ancient history but also for modern-day executives looking to excel in their roles and make a meaningful impact in their organizations.

Four Approaches to World-Changing Action

True leaders go beyond understanding problems and take action to reshape reality. This involves four fundamental approaches: problem reframing, building alliances, establishing new identities, and manipulating symbols. For instance, Alexander the Great was a master of reframing problems, like turning a naval problem into a land battle by cutting off sources of fresh water. He also understood the importance of building coalitions and converting former enemies into valuable allies. Alexander was skilled at creating new identities, both for himself and his subjects. He also effectively manipulated symbols, using them to his tactical advantage. These four powerful approaches allowed Alexander to change the world with his actions, not just his understanding of it.

Alexander’s Reframing Victory

Alexander, with a minimal army, defeated King Porus’ well-equipped troops at Hydaspes by reframing the problem. Instead of attacking head-on, he turned the elephants against the Indian king, drew his cavalry into a trap, and shot the elephant handlers. The blinded and wounded elephants went out of control, broken the ranks, and forced many soldiers to flee in panic. He got King Porus to destroy himself by reframing the problem.

Alexander’s Sacrifice

Alexander’s leadership style was characterized by leading the way by example. His army was laden with plunder, hindering their movement, but rather than push the burden to the troops, Alexander gave up his loot first. By setting fire to his wagons of loot, he gave the example to his officers and men to follow, showcasing the utmost level of sacrifice. This remarkable style of leadership is in stark contrast with most corporate policies that hardly cater to the welfare of the staff.

Building Loyalty Through Downsizing

Alexander the Great settles wounded veterans in new cities to gain loyalty and control conquered territory. Business leaders could use a similar approach during downsizing by creating new ventures for former employees to retain equity interests and build loyalty.

Alexander’s Leadership Lesson

After eight years of constant battle, Alexander’s army was weary and close to mutiny. Rather than punishing the rebels, Alexander took responsibility for the decision to take the army home. He secreted himself in his tent for three days before coming out, announcing the decision. This decision kept his command presence and ultimately saved his army.

Alexander the Great and the Art of Reframing Problems

Alexander the Great defeated the unconquerable Rock of Aronos by challenging conventional wisdom and reframing the problem. He refused to accept that the sheer rock wall was impregnable and ordered his troops to scale it, leading to his victory. This same technique was applied by Jack Welch in the 1980s at General Electric by redefining industries to achieve a number one or two position, leading to a broader range of growth opportunities. Alexander died at the young age of 33, having conquered the greatest empire and revolutionizing trade, introducing coinage and a common language and culture. Reframing problems is an important strategy in achieving success and growth.

Crossing the Indus

Alexander’s calculated move to defeat King Porus holds enduring lessons for today’s leaders.

When faced with the challenge of crossing the fast-moving Indus River, Alexander the Great showcased exemplary strategic thinking and patience. Porus, the opposing king, constantly shadowed Alexander as he marched half of his army upriver. But Alexander didn’t lose hope and continued the dance for months until he received an opportunity. He waited until Porus garrisoned every possible river crossing with an elephant – knowing their smell would discourage cavalry horses from crossing – before making his move.
Under the cover of darkness, Alexander took half of his troop away from the main body, moving only after rainstorms so troops wouldn’t raise dust. To maintain secrecy, he had his men pad their shields and weapons so they wouldn’t make any noise. Buoyed by air-filled goatskins, they floated across the river and defeated a small local garrison, including killing and burying its elephant. Only then did Alexander bring his horses across the river and ultimately win the battle.

This historical account holds enduring lessons for today’s leaders. Corporate leaders can learn that it’s essential to wait patiently for their opponent or the market to relax before making a move. Polaroid, for instance, used this tactic to win a case against a competitor who had infringed on its patents. Polaroid only sued after the competitor established a sound market position, winning a billion-dollar settlement and forcing the competitor to withdraw. In conclusion, history remains the reservoir where civilization stores its best heroes, and Alexander’s moving story is an excellent example for today’s leaders.

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