Alexander the (not so) Great
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We analyse the qualities of one of history’s most divisive leaders
There are countless books and films about Alexander the Great noting his grandeur, his energy and, of course, his leadership. However, there are three objectives he did not reach, that are essential when we evaluate any leader: what legacy did he leave behind? How did he perform in the position or how did he benefit from it? How did he define his mission and then set about achieving it?
Alexander (born in 365 BC) did not perform satisfactorily in any of these areas. His shortcomings as a leader were that he left things worse or, at best, exactly the same as they were before. Alexander simply served himself as he pleased, with a narcissistic leadership style. He satisfied his own military passions rather than carrying out his obligations as a statesman.
Alexander’s story is one of a person who had it all. One can liken his behaviour to that of supremely talented Hollywood stars who become famous at an early age but then struggle to deal with premature success.
Not that he didn’t get a particularly stellar start in life. Alexander’s father Philip II chose the greatest teachers of the time to develop his physical strength and his knowledge of literature and philosophy; Alexander was an avid learner.
Alexander’s lust for power was fulfilled when his father was assassinated by his own general. No one knows if the general had been egged on by Alexander, his mother Olympia, or perhaps both of them. But as a result, Alexander was proclaimed king when he was just 20 years old.
Alexander’s management style alternated between cruelty and generosity: he destroyed Thebes and pardoned Athens, maybe as a result of the respect he had for for the city acquired from his studies.
Acclaimed by the Greek states, they provided him with the troops and resources to undertake a triumphant military expedition against the Persian army. Aware of the precarious loyalty of Athens, Alexander left one-third of his troops in Greece and set out on his crusade.
He had no idea what he would find in Asia. If he had known, he wouldn’t have tried to conquer it with just 23,000 men. I believe what drove him to Asia was a dream of glory.
His victories aroused the admiration of contemporaries and of future generations. He conquered Damascus, Sidon, Tiro, all of Egypt, Babylonia and Persepolis; he founded Alexandria and defeated Darius, and made it to the Himalayas.
Before his death at just 32 years old, Alexander murdered Cleitus, the friend who had saved his life, when Cleitus reminded him that his victories belonged to his father because he had left Alexander with a formidable army.
Alexander focused intently on what was ahead, never looking back. His leadership style was that of a heroic general more than a statesman. He had prodigious hardware, but tempestuous software.