• Chapter One. Looking for Leadership Slowly

    We will begin to develop our leadership by looking closely at a portrait of another human face, project some capacities for leadership onto it, and then reflect on our own capacities for this leadership.

  • Chapter Two. Activating Others to Lead: Athena Mentors Telemachus in the *Odyssey*

    We will develop ways both to be--and to find--a better mentor by studying Athena's relationship with Telemachus in the *Odyssey* as she prepares him to take over Odysseus' household.

  • Chapter Three. Becoming a "Master Harmonizer" in Nnedi Okorafor's *Binti*

    We will move beyond activating the potential of individuals to activating the potential of partnerships.

  • Chapter Four. Overcoming Dehumanizing Stereotypes and Reconciling a Nation at War in Aristophanes' *Lysistrata*

    We will continue to explore the challenges that stereotypes pose to leadership and individuals and groups overcome these stereotypes even without support from others.

  • Chapter Five. Recognizing a Bad Mentor and Grappling with Ambition and Greed in Sophocles' *Philoctetes*

    We will delve more deeply into the motivations that help us lead and that get in the way of leading.

  • Chapter Six. Spotting the Bad Mentee in Jorge Luis Borges' "El Muerto"

    We will continue our exploration of leadership motivations and practice developing profiles of personality types that can guide us collaborating (or not) with others..

  • Chapter Seven. How (Not) to Be an Advocate for Others in Larry Kramer's *The Normal Heart*t

    "To speak or not to speak?" is one of the fundamental decisions of leadership. We will ponder this question according to relevance, tone, motivation, clarity, empathy, and timing.

  • Chapter Eight. The Complete Leadership Package? Cyrus the Great in Xenophon's *Education of Cyrus*

    What are the core traits that make up the kind of leadership that best meets the needs of others? Does such a set exist? Where do these traits come from?

  • Chapter Nine. The Requisites of True Leadership according to Ida B. Wells
  • Chapter Ten. Leadership for Tomorrow, Part One: Disney's *Moana*

    We will explore the mentor relationship between Moana and her Gramma Tala as well as the ways Moana becomes a mentor to Maui.

  • Chapter Eleven. Leadership for Tomorrow, Part Two: Ryan Coogler's *The Black Panther*

Does all leadership come from loving three things: humanity, learning, and honor?

The earliest writers on the subject [=leadership], in ancient Greece and Israel, knew all that has ever been known about leadership. The scores of books, papers and speeches on leadership in the business enterprise that come out every year have little to say on the subject that was not already old when the Prophets spoke and Aeschylus wrote. The first systematic book on leadership: the Kyropaidaia [sic] of Xenophon–himself no mean leader of men–is still the best book on the subject. Yet three thousand years of study, exhortation, injunction and advice do not seem to have increased the supply of leaders to any appreciable extent nor enabled people to learn how to become leaders–Peter Drucker (The Practice of Management, p. 137, 1955 [revised 2007]).


In this chapter we look at a fictionalized account of the life of Cyrus the Second (a.k.a., “the Great”), the first king of the Persian Empire, as he is described by the fourth-century BCE Athenian author, Xenophon (written c. 365 BCE). The work we will look at is call the Cyropaedia or The Education of Cyrus, a work which takes us through Cyrus’ boyhood education in the Persian system, as well as the time he spends at his grandfather’s court in Media (Cyrus is the son of the king of Persia, Cambyses, and the grandson of the king of Media, Astyages). As we explore the character of Cyrus, we will challenge ourselves to reflect on whether Cyrus is the “complete package” in terms of leadership, and if he is, what can any of us hope to learn from him? 


Spend 30 minutes writing about the person in your life (someone you know personally) that you would say has shown the most and best leadership in their course of their life. How young were they when they first started showing leadership? In addition to describing the specific leadership behaviors that this person has show, you may want to include information about their education and upbringing, their physical appearance and style of dress (insofar as you believe it influences their leadership), and anything else about them that may explain how they came to show leadership so well. Finally, in your sketch explain what areas of life you believe their leadership would be most effective, e.g., in a boardroom, a classroom, a sports field, or state house. 

Now read Book One of the Education of Cyrus (there are eight books in all–and I encourage you to read them at some point!), translated by Walter Miller, and answer the following question: does Cyrus show ideal leadership, i.e., is he the best practitioner of leadership you could imagine? Why or why not?

See the Appendix at the end of this chapter for further guidance on the key Greek terms.

Pierre Henri de Valenciennes – Alexander at the Tomb of Cyrus the Great – 1983.35 – Art Institute of Chicago

Key Passages + Discussion

Passage One (1.1.1-1.1.2): The Problem that the Cyropaedia tackles: How to get others to follow you willingly.

[1] The thought once occurred to us how many republics [dēmokratiai] have been overthrown by people who preferred to live under any form of government other than a republican, and again, how many monarchies and how many oligarchies in times past have been abolished by the people. We reflected, moreover, how many of those individuals who have aspired to absolute power have either been deposed once for all and that right quickly; or if they have continued in power, no matter for how short a time, they are objects of wonder as having proved to be wise and happy men. Then, too, we had observed, we thought, that even in private homes some people who had rather more than the usual number of servants and some also who had only a very few were nevertheless, though nominally masters, quite unable to assert their authority over even those few. 

[2] And in addition to this, we reflected that cowherds are the rulers of their cattle, that grooms are the rulers of their horses, and that all who are called herdsmen might properly be regarded as the rulers of the animals over which they are placed in charge. Now we noticed, as we thought, that all these herds obeyed their keepers more readily than men obey their rulers. For the herds go wherever their keeper directs them and graze in those places to which he leads them and keep out of those from which he excludes them. They allow their keeper, moreover, to enjoy, just as he will, the profits that accrue from them. And then again, we have never known of a herd conspiring against its keeper, either to refuse obedience to him or to deny him the privilege of enjoying the profits that accrue. At the same time, herds are more intractable to strangers than to their rulers and those who derive profit from them. Men, however, conspire against none sooner than against those whom they see attempting to rule over them. 

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

For more on the interest in the Education of Cyrus by the American Founders check out this link.

Passage Two (1.1.6-1.2.1): Cyrus’ superlative traits of body and soul

[1.6] Believing this man to be deserving of all admiration, we have therefore investigated who he was in his origin [genea], what natural endowments [phūsis] he possessed, and what sort of education [paideia] he had enjoyed, that he so greatly excelled in governing men. Accordingly, what we have found out or think we know concerning him we shall now endeavour to present. 

[2.1] The father of Cyrus is said to have been Cambyses, king of the Persians: this Cambyses belonged to the stock of the Persidae, and the Persidae derive their name from Perseus. His mother, it is generally agreed, was Mandane; and this Mandane was the daughter of Astyages, sometime king of the Medes. And even to this day the barbarians tell in story and in song that Cyrus was most handsome [kallistos] in person [morphē], most generous [philanthrōpotatos] of heart [psuchē], most devoted to learning [philomathestatos], and most ambitious [philotīmotatos], so that he endured all sorts of labour [philoponia] and faced all sorts of danger [philokindunia] for the sake of praise.

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

For more on Cyrus’ three superlative traits of soul (philanthrōpia, philomatheia, and philotīmia), check out Norman Sandridge, Loving Humanity, Learning, and Being Honored (2012).

Passage Three (1.2.6-1.2.8): The Persian Education System: Practice and Emulation

[6] The boys go to school and spend their time in learning justice [dikaiosunē]; and they say that they go there for this purpose, just as in our country they say that they go to learn to read and write. And their officers spend the greater part of the day in deciding cases for them. For, as a matter of course, boys also prefer charges against one another, just as men do, of theft, robbery, assault, cheating, slander, and other things that naturally come up; and when they discover any one committing any of these crimes, they punish him, [7] and they punish also any one whom they find accusing another falsely. And they bring one another to trial also charged with an offence for which people hate one another most but go to law least, namely, that of ingratitude; and if they know that any one is able to return a favour and fails to do so, they punish him also severely. For they think that the ungrateful are likely to be most neglectful of their duty toward their gods, their parents, their country, and their friends; for it seems that shamelessness goes hand in hand with ingratitude [acharistia]; and it is that, we know, which leads the way to every moral wrong.

[8] They teach the boys self-control [sophrosunē] also; and it greatly conduces to their learning self-control that they see their elders also living temperately day by day. And they teach them likewise to obey the officers; and it greatly conduces to this also that they see their elders implicitly obeying their officers. And besides, they teach them self-restraint [enkrateia] in eating and drinking; and it greatly conduces to this also that they see that their elders do not leave their post to satisfy their hunger until the officers dismiss them; and the same end is promoted by the fact that the boys do not eat with their mothers but with their teachers, from the time the officers so direct. Furthermore, they bring from home bread for their food, cress for a relish, and for drinking, if any one is thirsty, a cup to draw water from the river. Besides this, they learn to shoot and to throw the spear.

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

Passage Four (1.4.1-1.4.2): Cyrus as the matchmaker between the Median nobles and his grandfather Astyages

[1] At last, however, his mother went away, but Cyrus remained behind and grew up in Media. Soon he had become so intimately associated with other boys of his own years that he was on easy terms with them. And soon he had won their father’s hearts by visiting them and showing that he loved their sons; so that, if they desired any favour of the king, they bade their sons ask Cyrus to secure it for them. And Cyrus, because of his kindness of heart [philanthrōpia] and his desire for popularity [philotīmia], made every effort to secure for the boys whatever they asked. [2] And Astyages could not refuse any favour that Cyrus asked of him. And this was natural; for, when his grandfather fell sick, Cyrus never left him nor ceased to weep but plainly showed to all that he greatly feared that his grandfather might die. For even at night, if Astyages wanted anything, Cyrus was the first to discover it and with greater alacrity than any one else he would jump up to perform whatever service he thought would give him pleasure, so that he won Astyages’s heart completely.

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

Passage Five (1.4.14-1.4.15): Cyrus’ lack of phthonos

[14] He [Astyages] took him [Cyrus] out to hunt; he had got the boys together, and a large number of men both on foot and on horseback, and when he had driven the wild animals out into country where riding was practicable, he instituted a great hunt. And as he was present himself, he gave the royal command that no one should throw a spear before Cyrus had his fill of hunting. But Cyrus would not permit him to interfere, but said: “If you wish me to enjoy the hunt, grandfather, let all my comrades give chase and strive to outdo one another, and each do his very best.” 

[15] Thereupon, Astyages gave his consent and from his position he watched them rushing in rivalry upon the beasts and vying eagerly with one another in giving chase and in throwing the spear. And he was pleased to see that Cyrus was unable to keep silence for delight, but, like a well-bred hound, gave tongue whenever he came near an animal and urged on each of his companions by name. And the king was delighted to see him laugh at one and praise another without the least bit of jealousy [phthonos]. At length, then, Astyages went home with a large amount of game; and he was so pleased with that chase, that thenceforth he always went out with Cyrus when it was possible, and he took along with him not only many others but, for Cyrus’s sake, the boys as well.

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

Passage Six (1.6.7): A lesson from Cambyses on the “most admirable thing someone can do”

“But, my son, have you forgotten the discussion you and I once had—that it was a great task and one worthy of a man, to do the best he could not only to prove himself a truly good and noble man but also to provide a good living both for himself and his household? And while this was a great task, still, to understand how to govern other people so that they might have all the necessaries of life in abundance and might all become what they ought to be, this seemed to us worthy of all admiration.”

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

Passage Seven (1.6.20-1.6.23): On the best way to get people to follow you, phronēsis

[20] “And then in regard to keeping the soldiers in a state of obedience, I think, father, that I am not inexperienced in that direction; for you instructed me in obedience from my very childhood on, compelling me to obey you. Then you surrendered me to the charge of my teachers, and they pursued the same course; and when we were in the class of young men, the officer in charge paid especial attention to this same point; and most of the laws seem to me to teach these two things above all else, to govern and to be governed. And now, when I think of it, it seems to me that in all things the chief incentive to obedience lies in this: praise and honour for the obedient, punishment and dishonour for the disobedient.” 

[21] “This, my son, is the road to compulsory obedience, indeed, but there is another road, a short cut, to what is much better—namely, to willing obedience. For people are only too glad to obey the man who they believe takes wiser thought for their interests than they themselves do. And you might recognize that this is so in many instances but particularly in the case of the sick: how readily they call in those who are to prescribe what they must do; and at sea how cheerfully the passengers obey the captain; and how earnestly travellers desire not to get separated from those who they think are better acquainted with the road than they are. But when people think that they are going to get into trouble if they obey, they will neither yield very much for punishment nor will they be moved by gifts; for no one willingly accepts even a gift at the cost of trouble to himself.” 

[22] “You mean to say, father, that nothing is more effectual toward keeping one’s men obedient than to seem to be wiser [phronimos] than they?”

“Yes,” said he, “that is just what I mean.”

“And how, pray, father, could one most quickly acquire such a reputation for oneself?”

“There is no shorter road, my son,” said he, “than really to be wise in those things in which you wish to seem to be wise; and when you examine concrete instances, you will realize that what I say is true. For example, if you wish to seem to be a good farmer when you are not, or a good rider, doctor, flute-player, or anything else that you are not, just think how many schemes you must invent to keep up your pretensions. And even if you should persuade any number of people to praise you, in order to give yourself a reputation, and if you should procure a fine outfit for each of your professions, you would soon be found to have practised deception; and not long after, when you were giving an exhibition of your skill, you would be shown up and convicted, too, as an impostor.” 

[23] “But how could one become really wise in foreseeing that which will prove to be useful?”

“Obviously, my son,” said he, “by learning all that it is possible to acquire by learning, just as you learned tactics. But whatever it is not possible for man to learn, nor for human wisdom to foresee, that you may find out from the gods by the soothsayer’s art, and thus prove yourself wiser than others; and if you know anything that it would be best to have done, you would show yourself wiser than others if you should exert yourself to get that done; for it is a mark of greater wisdom in a man to strive to secure what is needful than to neglect it.”

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

Plotting your leadership development

Part One: Becoming Better at “Knowing How It’s Going to Go”

What is a problem that you would like to have phronēsis (wisdom, forethought, or “knowing how this is going to go”) in solving? This could be any kind of problem–environmental, economic, societal, political, scientific. What is your plan for cultivating phronēsis? How will you establish your reputation for phronēsis, so that others will take you seriously?

Part Two: Managing Phthonos

Identify three times in your life when your feeling of phthonos interfered with your ability to lead, e.g., on a sports team, a student group, a group of coworkers, or even within your family. If you can’t think of three times, you’re not thinking hard enough! Were you able to overcome these feelings in the moment or at least afterward? Now imagine three situations in the coming weeks when you might feel phthonos toward someone such that it interferes with your leadership. What can you do to overcome these feelings next time they arise? How can the groups you’re involved in do a better job of minimizing feelings of phthonos to ensure that everyone is able to activate the best within themselves? You might think of this in terms of policies or just overall culture.

For more on Cyrus check out “He Will Rock You” from the course, Beyond the Boundaries of Fantasia: An Ancient Imagining of the Future of Leadership, and “There Can Be Only One” from American Pi: Ancient Leadership in the Era of Donald Trump.

Appendix: Some key terms for understanding Xenophon’s Cyrus II (“the Great”)

genea [GEN-ay-ah]: lineage (cf. gennaios: “being the best of one’s lineage”, noble); Cyrus is the son of the king of Persia (Cambyses) and the grandson of the king of Media (Astyages, whose daughter, Mundane, is Cyrus’ mother)

phūsis [PHOO-sis]: nature (cf. the word physics in English)

morphē [MOR-fay]: shape, physical form, body (cf. the word metamorphosis in English, which means “a changing of form”)

kallos [KALL-os]: beauty, sexual attractiveness (adj., kallistos, “most attractive”)

psuchē [psoo-KAY]: soul, spirit, life

philanthrōpia [fil-an-thro-PEE-ah]: the love of humanity, which includes fond feeling, sociability, affection, and generosity

philomatheia [fil-oh-MATH-ay-ah]: the love of learning, which includes curiosity and the ability to learn things quickly

philotīmia [fil-oh-tee-ME-ah]: the love of being honored, recognized, praised, or memorialized

philokindunia [fil-oh-kin-doo-NI-ah]: the love of danger (or a propensity to take risks); these risks could include threats to one’s reputation, one’s fortune (or resources), and one’s life

philoponia [fil-oh-po-NI-ah]: the love of toil or willingness to toil, e.g., work harder than others and lose sleep

paideia [pie-DAY-ah]: education both in the sense of learning various skills but also building character

dikaiosunē [dee-kai-oh-SOO-nay]: the ability to judge well; keeping to one’s agreements

sōphrosunē [soh-fro-SOO-nay]: emotional restraint, especially the emotions that may distract us, e.g., fear, anger, lust, pity

enkrateia [in-krah-TAY-ah]: bodily self-mastery over things like hunger, thirst, loss of sleep

praotēs [pra-OH-tase]: gentleness, particularly in the area rivalry and criticism; the person with praotes will not be bothered by the excellence of others and will not get upset when others criticize them

phthonos [FTHO-nos]: a feeling of hostility (sometimes translated as “resentment” or “envy”) toward someone who has violated your “airspace”, where “airspace” can refer to your personal space, your personal property, or your identity, particularly in a social space. So, for example, you might feel phthonos toward someone who tries to eat food off your plate or toward someone who threatens your status as “team captain” of the basketball team. The adjective for someone who does not have phthonos is aphthonos (a-without + phthonos) and may often be translated as generous, that is, your airspace is fully open to others.

phronēsis [FRON-ay-sis]: wisdom, forethought, prudence; it’s the ability to predict or know “how things are going to go” if a certain behavior or plan of action is attempted

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