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Leonidas – Leadership Skills

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    Leonidas was the king of Sparta between 488BC and 480BC. The movie “300” narrates the story of Leonidas leading 300 Spartan “body guards” and fighting to death against the massive Persian army led by “God King” Xerxes in the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. Prior to the start of the war, Leonidas knew that his army was hugely outnumbered and knew with certainty that his move against the Persians was a suicide mission. His intention was to delay the fast approaching Persian army from reaching the heart of Sparta by using a narrow mountain pass in Thermopylae to his advantage.

    The movie concludes with the brutal killing of Leonidas and his men by the massive Persian arrow barrage. Even though the battle was won by the Persians, the sacrifice and resistance of the 300 Spartans against the one million Persians served as a moral victory for Greeks and helped the different Greek clans to unite against the invading Persians. Leonidas went through a rigorous military training starting at the age of 7 through the age of 30. He was taught to endure hunger, pain, cold, fear, natural calamities and wilderness dangers.

    He was trained never to retreat and never to surrender. The training also taught him to steal and to utilize bare minimal resources to survive in adverse conditions. By the end of the training period, his biggest value in life was to consider service to Sparta and death in battlefield for Sparta as the greatest glory of life. His interests and motives were directed towards upholding the Spartan cultural values of respect, honor, freedom and justice.

    When the Persian emissary threatened the Spartan king, with heads of conquered kings, tales of slavery, King Xerxes’s military power, and demanded a token of submission, Leonidas immediately kills him to convey the strong consistent message about the fate of people who tries to jeopardize Spartan values to the conspirators and to his followers. By Spartan law, Leonidas was forced to consult the “Euphors”, old Spartan priests, before going on war with the Persians. Even though Leonidas explained the tactical battle strategy, the greedy corrupt priests denied Leonidas’s request to wage war against the Persians.

    Leonidas was in an ethical dilemma between breaking the Spartan law that he had sworn to protect and the fate of Spartans if he does not prevent the advancing Persians. His analytic, practical and creative intelligence made him decide to meet the Persian army with 300 of his best soldiers at a narrow mountain corridor called hot gates without violating Spartan law. The high intelligence level of Leonidas is evident when he teaches his son to first fight with head and then fight with his heart. Leonidas delegated the activity of choosing the 300 “body guard” soldiers to his army captain Artemis.

    Artemis does an exceptional job of selecting the best Spartan soldiers whose personal values were aligned with that of Leonidas’s. The fact that Leonidas knew the mind set of his followers is evident when he instructed Artemis to choose the soldiers who had born sons to carry on their names. Leonidas’s charisma is exemplified when the individual soldiers vowed to die for their common values along with the king and when Artemis drafted his youngest son, Astinos, saying that he has other sons to replace him.

    During their march to the battle field, Leonidas rallies other Greek army men to join the battle with his visioning and rhetorical skills. Leonidas and his men tactically planned to funnel the Persian army through the narrow corridor between the mountains and the seas. Even though the odds of winning the battle were very low, Leonidas trusted his 300 skilled soldiers to outflank the Persian army in the narrow corridor using the phalanx formation. Phalanx is a military formation in which soldiers heavily armed with spears and shields formed an impenetrable unit protecting the man on his left with the shield.

    Periodically Leonidas was motivating and encouraging the soldiers with his short pep talks at different stages of the battle like “This is where we hold them. This is where we fight. This is where they die. ”, “Remember this day, men. For it will be yours for all time. ”, “Give them nothing. But take from them everything. ”. Even though the Persians were trying to torment the Spartans with barrages of arrows, skilled elite “immortals” army, giant beasts trained for war and black powder bombs, Leonidas and his men were able to rebuff the Persian army and make the Persians suffer huge causalities.

    Leonidas firmly turned down Xerxes’s offer of wealth and power in exchange for loyalty and surrender. Prior to the commencement of war, Ephialtes, a hunch backed Spartan, approached Leonidas to be included in the war. Leonidas refused to cater Ephialtes’s request as the latter cannot hold the shield properly which can compromise the tightly knit phalanx. Angered by rejection, Ephialtes performs the treacherous act of informing Persians about the secret path around the battle terrain. Upon revelation of Persian’s knowledge of the secret path, the Greeks other than Spartans fled the battle field.

    Leonidas displayed his authentic leadership at the time of dire crisis by commanding his men with the following words “No retreat. No surrender. That is the Spartan law. And by Spartan law, we will stand and fight and die. A new age has begun. An age of freedom. And all will know that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it. ” Prior to the commencement of the final battle, Leonidas tactfully sends his soldier with the best narrative skills back to Sparta to deliver his final orders to the council and to tell about their tale of victory.

    Even after the Persians surrounded the Spartans, Xerxes offered title and wealth to Leonidas in exchange for surrender without a fight. Leonidas seemingly bowed in submission after removing his protective gear and commanded one of his men to leap over him to kill Xerxes’s army general. In the midst of the confusion, Leonidas hurled his spear at King Xerxes as a last attempt to attain his goal. After being wounded by the spear, Xerxes ordered his army to slaughter the Spartans with the massive barrage of arrows. The followers of Leonidas were military trained like Leonidas himself and were highly achievement oriented.

    They were indoctrinated with the Spartan values of respect, honor and freedom. Leonidas effectively motivated his followers to bring the best of their abilities in the battle field during the period of crisis. The Pygmalion effect of higher performance on followers upon leader’s articulation of higher expectations is evident when Leonidas clearly communicated his expectations to his followers. Even though there was no room for softness in Spartan culture, Leonidas saw to it that the followers need, to continue their lineage, was catered when he drafted the 300 soldiers for the suicide mission.

    Leonidas believed that dying in battlefield for Sparta as the biggest glory of life and was able to intrinsically motivate his followers on the same belief. At the end of every major mission, Leonidas recognized the achievements of his followers. By the different acts of his life, Leonidas was able to impress his followers with positive attributes like honesty, intelligence, dependability, administrative skills and foresightedness. Leonidas’s style is a perfect example of servant leadership. He led his men from the front.

    He never commanded his men’s loyalty through fear or through offers of wealth. He toiled along with his men in the battle field. He never expected his followers to serve him instead he was providing the service to them. He was aware of his men’s strengths and weaknesses. Rather than using his authoritative power, he was influencing his men through logical persuasion. He had a well developed sense of intuition of the situation, followers and opponents. Analyzing Leonidas’s leadership using normative decision model, both Leonidas and his followers were aware of the time critical problem.

    Even though Leonidas made the decision to go to war, he had selected only the followers who shared the similar thoughts and passion to accompany him. So from that perspective, we can interpret that Leonidas was interested in implementing decisions that were acceptable to his followers. Leonidas interacted differently with different men at different situations. The fact that he treated the fellow Greeks differently compared to his highly skilled 300 men shows that he was cognizant of the different follower readiness for the task accomplishment.

    From the situational leadership model perspective, the 300 men were having a high readiness level and required less instructions from Leonidas for task accomplishment where as the other Greek followers were having a low readiness and required more instructions for the task accomplishment. Analyzing Leonidas’s interactional frame work with followers and situations from path goal theory perspective, the 300 men were internal locus of control followers who were very highly skilled and Leonidas adopted a participative style to lead the men.

    Tracing back to the child hood days, Leonidas displayed a very high level of competitive sprit and self confidence. He was able to make very quick effective decisions under very stressful conditions. This trait of Leonidas is clearly illustrated when he killed the giant wolf in the wilderness just by himself using bare minimal equipments. His high levels of surgency traits were clear when he became the king at a very early age and his tendency to take risky decisions.

    Even though he was not able to convince the Spartan Council men and fellow Greeks to wage war against Xerxes at Thermopylae, Leonidas was able to influence them posthumously with his acts of bravery and sacrifice. One year after the death of Leonidas, Spartans and Greeks, united under the vision of Leonidas, were able to defeat Xerxes in the battle of Plataea. Leonidas had a high level of agreeableness trait. He was empathic towards his followers and had the skills to get the best performance out of his fellow men.

    Because of this virtue, he was able to form a high performing elite team of men within a short time span. Leonidas displayed a medium level of dependability. Leonidas was creative, spontaneous and impulsive. Killing the Persian messenger for threatening Sparta was an act of impulse. Even though the priests and the council men opposed Leonidas in going to battle, Leonidas was spontaneous and creative in coming with a battle strategy to delay the advance of the Persians. Even though Leonidas was pictured as an impulsive person, he was true to himself and was keen in keeping promises.

    During the different stressful moments of the battle, Leonidas remained calm and was very emotionally stable. He ensured that neither him nor the followers were getting stressed seeing the size of the opponents. His different inspirational conversations reduced the stress levels of his followers and ensured that their performances were not impacted. Even though the council men, priests and fellow Greeks criticized Leonidas for bringing the war upon them, Leonidas never lost his temper. Leonidas did not exhibit any dramatic mood swings or emotional outbursts during stressful situations.

    He had a very high level of trust in his followers and never questioned their integrity. He never procrastinated any key activities and did not blame any of his followers for their pitfalls. Differences in adjustment trait between Leonidas and Xerxes were explicit when Xerxes ordered to kill his army generals who failed in containing Leonidas’s battlefield havoc. The personality dimension of Leonidas showed that he possessed a moderate openness to experience. He was very broad minded, strategic and a big picture thinker.

    He sacrificed his and his fellow men’s lives for the long term benefit of Sparta. Leonidas should have been aware of the repercussions of turning down Ephialtes’s request. He should not have left Ephialtes high and dry when he was aware that Ephialtes knew about the secret mountain path that Persians could use against his men. Even though Leonidas lived in a different era and in a different cultural setup, a lot of things that he practiced are applicable to modern day organizational leaders. Leonidas possessed the attributes of an effective leader.

    He motivated and empowered his fellow men to remove obstacles from their path and coached them to unleash their intrinsic potential. He believed in what he was pursuing and painted the clear picture for his men so that they will not be discouraged in pursuit of their daunting task. Leonidas ensured that he and his men shared the same values and were ready to go to any extent for the cause. The modern day leaders should proactively communicate the organizational vision to the followers and should help the followers understand the big picture.

    The leader should provide clear direction and foster enthusiasm among the followers. The leader should exhibit credibility and consistency while motivating and empowering the followers. The bond that Leonidas established within his cohort is another interesting aspect of managing the team dynamics. He believed that the key to his group’s success is to act as a single impenetrable unit both physically and mentally. Leonidas vehemently opposed ideas that he perceived as a potential danger to the team’s cohesion and unity.

    In modern day organizations, one of the major pillars of effective leadership is the establishment of close bond between leader and followers. The leader should have clear cut values and visions that should be evident to the followers. In today’s world, the followers have access to lots of information at their finger tips and can be exposed to a lot of radical thoughts. The leader should take extra efforts to initiate and maintain close relations with the followers so that he/she is aware of the pulse of the team.

    The issues that can disturb the functioning of the followers as a single team should be proactively addressed by the leader. The leader should know his/her followers both professionally and personally for building and maintaining effective teams. The servant leadership model followed by Leonidas is something that modern day organizational leaders should study very closely. A leader should not be engaged in entertaining activities when his followers are working very hard to complete the key organizational projects. The leader should be among the midst of his followers and should be leading team from the front like Leonidas.

    The leader should not demand respect from his followers using his positional powers rather he should earn his follower’s respect by his traits and behaviors. The leader should not be running after the corner offices of the high rise buildings when his followers are working under very adverse conditions. The leader should have the character and integrity to avoid drawing huge bonuses and pay packages when he is downsizing his organization. The leader should not expect his followers to serve him instead he should serve the followers who will be helping to accomplish his visions and goals.

    In conclusion, Leonidas displayed the true essence of a leader. His other subtle leadership skills like ability to adapt to new situations, controlling emotions in stressful situations, improving team building skills, developing listening skills through consistent practice, influencing followers through logical persuasion, inspiring commitment, strategic thinking, continuous assessment of followers and situations are worthwhile skills that should be embraced by the modern day organizational leaders.

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    Leonidas – Leadership Skills. (2017, Mar 04). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/leonidas-leadership-skills/

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