Plutarch’s lessons in leadership

I have to begin this post by apologizing to all who follow my blog for not blogging regularly over the last few months. This is especially true of neglecting the timetable I set for my reading and blogging about the 10-year reading plan for the Great Books of the Western World. I do, however, have a good excuse! The vast majority of my time this summer went to writing and revising (and revising [and revising (and etc.)]) my MA thesis on W. E. B. Du Bois’s ideas about education and the application that might be made of them to educating disadvantaged youth in the 21st century. I have (finally) finished the writing and revision process (for the most part) and will be defending my thesis on the evening of August 6, which I am very excited about.

As a result of the strenuous efforts of thesis writing and revision, I have been unable to keep up with the schedule I set for following the 10-year reading plan and blogging about it. According to my estimate, I am about 4 months behind on reading and about 5 months behind on blogging. With that said, one of my goals is to catch up by the end of 2015, and this post is a good place to start. Because my reading of Plutarch’s lives of Lycurgus, Numa, Alexander, and Caesar was stretched over such a long period and because I am so far behind, I will not get especially deep into analysis and criticism. Instead, I want to offer just a few thoughts.

First, the theme I am just now beginning to pick up on for this year is one of leadership. “What does the ideal leader look like?,” seems to be one of the primary questions that is being asked. Of course, as a leader is first and foremost a role model, there is also the theme of “what does the ideal person look like?” Each of the four great men whose biographies we read in “March” were men who were simultaneously great and flawed. Caesar’s ambition is perhaps the most famous and obvious of the flaws of these four leaders, but one might also point to Alexander’s vainglory, Numa’s shortsightedness, and Lycurgus’s harshness, for example, as the flaws which eventually led to the dissolution of their respective peoples’ independence.

As a teacher, these are lessons I take to heart. For 190 days out of the year I have to stand in front of almost 100 students and throughout the school days am seen by hundreds more. Even “off-duty,” so to speak, and even with the size of Savannah, I frequently run into my students while out and about. Every mistake I make is, in a sense, an action that will become acceptable in their eyes. Every flaw I have has the potential to replicate itself through their respect for me and their following of the example that I role model. I’m no Alexander or Caesar, obviously, but I am a leader whose decisions have serious ramifications for the lives of those whom I teach, not to mention my own three young children.

As a husband and a father, I also see a great deal to learn from this month’s readings. As the head of my household and the leader of my family, the example that I set, the rules I enforce and the reasons why and how I enforce them, the care that I show, will all determine the course that my family will take. Arrogance, pride, shortsightedness, cruelty, impatience, and so on will each bring about their fruits within only a generation, as well each of their virtuous opposites.

It will be interesting to see whether and how this theme continues to be discussed and played out as we continue the readings this year. There are some very interesting examples of leaders, both magnificently great and tragically flawed, which we will see in this year’s coming readings. We move next to the Gospel of Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles, two biblical texts which trace the great leaders of the Christian tradition, beginning with the Lord Himself and moving to the Apostles, including especially Peter and Paul. I hope to finish this reading and have my blog post about these up by mid-August so that we can then move on to arguably the greatest medieval figure of the Christian tradition, St. Augustine.

If you have been keeping up with the readings or have read these biographies of Plutarch in the past, please leave a comment and let me know what you think! Do you see the same theme in this year’s readings? What lessons on leadership do you see in Plutarch and the other readings we’ve covered so far?

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