In our last post we looked at how Odysseus, our archetypal leader, made use of a broad range of experiences and mistakes to learn and grow. In this final post we’ll discuss more of the characteristics that leaders of today could employ to their organization’s benefit.
Our protagonist understands the importance of assessing critical situations himself. In chapter four, Helen, of Troy fame, told how Odysseus disguised himself and entered Troy to see the city’s defenses for himself. He stayed in the character of a beggar when approached by Helen and finally escaped from the city with the info desired. Time and again we see him leading from the front and making his own assessment of situations. Leaders today should consider doing the same with major customers, vendors, marketplaces.
In book twenty Odysseus almost explodes verbally and physically. He knows unleashing them in a torrent of invective and action would not serve his purpose. He does a good job tamping down his emotions at that critical juncture. Executives, too, need to control their emotions to improve effectiveness.
Odysseus analyzes each situation before taking appropriate action. He uses emotional intelligence to determine what others want and how to best connect with them. He is always looking to learn about new people and changing situations. Odysseus makes those difficult decisions and takes action. He stays in character when appropriate and he always perseveres.
Sometimes, as leaders, we have to make those most difficult decisions. Occasionally we are called upon to take actions we know will affect people’s lives. We’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Scylla and Charybdis. There is some comfort to know others have struggled with these dilemmas for thousands of years. We’re not in this alone and can learn from the past, finding models to adapt to the current day.
So finally after twenty years, ten at the siege of Troy and ten being blown off course, Odysseus makes his way home to his wife and family. If you read the story you’ll find he still needs to overcome some challenging obstacles there, and he does. During his arduous journey Odysseus employs the skills and traits all good leaders should develop.
Having worked closely with business owners and top managers for the past twenty years I’ve noticed the best leaders share a number of Odysseus’ characteristics. Among them is emotional intelligence, courageous action, ability to make difficult decisions. They also tend to lead from the front, have perseverance, are lifelong learners and accepting we’re all human.
The Odysseus archetype is a solid model for today’s leaders to embrace. Becoming familiar with the towering characters in our classic literature broadens a leader’s perspective. It is an effective way to “visit cities of men and learn their minds”. Perspective is the other important element classic literature provides, in some case thousands of years of perspective.
The greatest thinkers and minds of all times have also engaged and commented on those characters. The emotional distance they provide enhances leader’s learning opportunities. Continue to lead as a lifelong learner.