In 2009, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States compared President Barack Obama to Alexander the Great. At the time, Obama brushed the comparison off with a joke. Almost five years later, after healthcare fiascoes and NSA spying revelations, terrorist attacks and other issues, Obama’s problems have never looked more complex and entangled. As approval ratings plummet in Washington, perhaps it’s time Obama and other leaders in Washington give more thought to the parallel.
Wellesley College professor Guy MacLean Rogers studies the leadership of Alexander the Great, seeking what lessons can be learned from the enigmatic warrior. Rogers, a world-renowned classicist, researches the leadership of history’s greatest warrior, and sees many similarities for the struggles of national leaders today.
“All leaders experience periods of great popularity and criticism for their actions and policies,” said Rogers. “Alexander was no exception. Although Alexander had legendary triumphs, he also made mistakes, some of them terrible ones.”
The key, Rogers said, was that when Alexander made mistakes he took responsibility for them. “He never evaded responsibility and when there was opposition to his policies he adjusted his policies. Maybe that is why so many people were willing to risk their lives to carry out his goals and were willing to follow him nearly to the end of the world.”
Today’s politicians, who may think more about what they look like on television or the concerns of a few stakeholders rather than what’s best for the country, could certainly learn from this example. “What many modern leaders have forgot or never knew is that the essence of effective leadership is sacrifice on behalf of others,” Rogers said. “No one was willing to sacrifice more than Alexander. His people knew that. That is why so many of them admired and even loved him.”
Rogers will be teaching a course, “Was Alexander Great? The Life, Leadership, and Legacies of History’s Greatest Warrior,” on WellesleyX/edX this spring. Among the topics the course will explore, one of the areas Rogers will focus on will be Alexander’s leadership and the questions: What were the qualities of leadership that Alexander possessed that allowed him to conquer the largest and most successful empire in the history of the ancient world before the age of 30? How did he plan to unite former enemies together? Are the leadership qualities Alexander had genetic? Can they be taught or learned? The course begins on early 2014 and registration is open now. The course, like all WellesleyX offerings, is free and open to the public.
“Alexander certainly was a controversial figure in his own times, and remains so to this day,” said Rogers. “In many ways, although Alexander lived more than 2300 years ago his life resonates with us precisely because he raises issues with which we continue to be obsessed.”
Guy MacLean Rogers, classicist and historian of Greek and Roman history, is the author of Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness (Random House, 2004) and The Mysteries of Artemis of Ephesos: Cult, Polis and Change in the Graeco-Roman World (Yale, 2013).