WORKPLACE / JUL. 25, 2014
version 4, draft 4

What Leaders Can Learn From the 300 Spartans

300 was a graphic novel and movie that I absolutely loved; partly because both were visually breathtaking, but more because they both brought a little more light to one of the most important battles in the history of mankind. The Battle of Thermopylae took place in late 480 BC and is one of the most successful losses of any war ever.

300 Spartans, led by King Leonidas met King Xerxes I of Persia at what is now called The Hot Gates. Persia had an army of 100,000 to 150,000 it would seem, and Sparta and the rest of the Greeks made up a group of around 7,000. While the battle was a loss in the end, the early fighting actually looked positive for those defending their homeland. It was only when they were betrayed that King Leonidas sent away all but around 1,400 men (300 of which were Spartans) to protect the rest as they escaped to prepare for a larger invasion. So how do you learn from this as you try to incorporate leadership into your working life?

Move Forward

Here is the thing about this battle; it was lead from the front. This is different than most battles through history in which the general or leader or king lead from a command role far from the actual field of battle. Granted, Spartans were a special breed of warrior trained from youth to fight, but the courage was bolstered by the most important man in their city-state holding the front line. Leading from the front is the most important thing you can do to get others to follow. If you are behind, and trying to lead, who is the person in front that the team will actually follow?

The true numbers of individuals and casualties range a great deal in the Battle of Thermopylae, but the results are pretty easy to understand. I encourage you to do some research on your own and learn about the long lasting effects of what occurred because of the sacrifice those men made. This is another lesson in leadership. You will have to make sacrifices as a leader and at times, you won’t understand what those sacrifices will mean in the future. The key is to be willing to make the hard choices based soley on your own beliefs. If you aren’t making the hard choices, who will? You will also be more than an individual. You will be part of one team, moving forward together, changing things for the better.

Fly Sparta

When I learned that my district would study Sparta for their view of leadership I was ecstatic. What we learned as we put things into practice is that leading from the front (more on that in a second) was significantly more encouraging than leading from a “management” perspective. You see, to lead from the front you actually have to get your hands dirty. You have to be the person that is doing things, instead of telling people how to do things.

Responsibility is on you as a leader and you have to do what is necessary to show your team that you are going to be the shield bearer. If something goes wrong, you need your team to know that you will take the brunt of the impact. When something goes incredibly well, you simply get out of the way and let your team take the credit.

You are the leader. You made it to where you need to be. Shed your concern for how others view you. Only worry about how your team is viewed. Let them know that you are in front and taking responsibility for the mistakes your team may make. Let them know that when things go well, it would not have happened without them, you were simply the spark and you will ensure they are given full credit. That is what it takes to lead from the front. Constant sacrifice.

If you want to see some true leadership in action (and plenty of well-deserved R rated visuals) go watch the original 300. When you get past the giant elephants and start to look at the Spartans as a team (as historically off as the movie may be) you will likely be inspired. Study the lead up to the battle at The Hot Gates and the results of their week long holding off of the Persians and you will likely start to understand that you can never truly know what to expect when your team is working as a well-oiled machine.

Image Source: Emerdelac

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