Ancient Greece: Leadership Skills

Ethics, Morals & Capacity — The Value of Personal Character

Sean McCormick
3 min readMay 24, 2022

Motivation! Folks love it. You see it every day on social media. Motivational quotes…coaches motivational talks…motivational seminars. Nearly everyone has to click on to hear the latest Row the Boat or Burn the Boats rant by a pro, college or high school coach! If we’re not rowing the boat we’re grabbing an axe and Chopping Wood…or grabbing to Hold onto that Rope!

These all look great printed on the backs of the team T-shirts and make a great introduction to a presentation before a corporate sales force being given by a Power 5 coach who’s pocketing $100,000 to rally the troops with the intent to increase sales by 3% over the next quarter. Unfortunately, many in business or coaching leadership positions have been weaned throughout their lives on the ever-popular 10-second soudbyte which is now status quo in the media.

Motivation may play a minor, if any, role in being a successful leader. I’m always reminded of Andy Russell, a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and what he claims coach Chuck Noll said when introducing himself to the team when first hired in 1969. “If I have to motivate you, I’ll fire you!” That’s what Russell says Noll told the players. I can definitely see that when it involves a paycheck (especially if it’s a desireable amount).

It’s All Greek to Me!

Taking a look at what leadership was like in ancient Greece, the three words which seem to be consistent in the many writings are: ethics, morals and capacity. The first two words are thrown about loosely today. Capacity. What is capacity? For the Greeks, leaders were capable of effectively communicating necessary instructions and directives. To do this the leader must be well-versed in the subject matter while permitting those being led to ask questions and being able to have those questions answered. Today, we call this the open door policy.

This is also where the servant leadership prinicples come into focus. The ancient Greek leader was expected to reach out to the followers; determining what is best for them while in line for what is best for the government/military/population. Morals and ethics also enter the equation in the final decision-making.

Leaders were expected to be cognizant of when and when not to engage in a military operation. A major component for a Greek in a leadership position was to display the warrior-like qualities which will assure the country’s safety. This also meant continual combat-ready training, engaging in the delivery of the up-to-date weaponry as a safeguard to preventing a military action against the country.

Leadership in Greek Literature

Homer’s Iliad is a prime example of the abilities and strengths the ancient Greeks demanded of their leaders. Odysseus, for instance, was touted as the man you would want in charge whenever a problem arose. His character came through in his authoratorial manner. At the same time, he was quite the diplomat. His orders to Achilles during the Trojan War exemplified his leadership qualities. It’s a perfect example of a servant leader, as Odysseus had Achilles reward his men by giving them ample food and rest between battles.

Leadership Take-Aways

Leadership starts by setting an example to those you are leading. You cannot expect others to follow certain standards while you do whatever you want. Those looking to the leader must be able to feel comfortable with speaking openly and expecting a rational, honest answer. An individual’s personality is definitely a part of the leadership equation, as it will have a great impact on leadership ability.



Sean McCormick

Turning the ‘complex’ into the ‘understandable!’ In Coaching & Leadership there is one constant — WRITING!