[February 14, 2016] I ask this question at the beginning of each presentation I make on leadership. When the room is full of young folks I admit to getting a few eyes rolling to show their acute disinterest in the topic. But the idea that we can learn from ancient history has more to do with leadership than most might believe at first.
Whenever we are fortunate enough to find a properly translated text of an historical observation of war, then we can extract lessons that may apply to us. Many of these ancient texts have been a good source of wartime wisdom. And that is exactly the point I try to make and that it allows us to answer age-old questions like, “what does it mean to be a great leader?”
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, Philosopher
Today the ignorance of history is unfortunately commonplace. Perhaps that will change but in our public school system that is unlikely to occur. But, why do leaders study ancient history?
- Understanding history is useful for everyday affairs, for all of us, leaders, groups, institutions, and societies.
- In a time of great complexity, uncertainty, and volatility, state politics is not possible without it.
- It teaches us about the application of grand strategy through political, economic, military, and informational tools.
- Being tied to fixed and inflexible ideas prevents the necessary flexibility to adapt and win.
- Individual leadership makes a difference whether on the battlefield, in political debate, in the practice of statesmanship, and in economic commerce.
Knowing the facts about the past is only part of our need to study and understand ancient history. It is better to also discover the why, the context, and the thinking under what circumstances events occurred. Without a grasp of those things, leadership will never be fully appreciated because history helps us expand our view and our talents.
Our best leaders understand relevant history and why it assists us in being better leaders. Some of us study ancient history to be better leaders but some of us study it simply because it is interesting to see through the eyes of someone who lived more than two millennia ago.
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