• 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*

On being a better friend to humanity

Ida B. Wells (author), Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, book cover, 1892

Everything that I write is about reaching out to people across the divide and to show us how much we have in common if we can just look past the barriers that have been erected between us, these false, artificial barriers that have been erected between us. And everything that I write ultimately is about love. It’s about love of family, love of community, and love of country–love of all of humanity. And to recognize that we as a species can only survive if we recognize that these barriers and divisions have been created by man, if we have the will to do so. And the desire to truly show love for our fellow man and woman, if we can show love for all of humanity.–Isabel Wilkerson (speaking with Oprah Winfrey on episode one of her podcast for her book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, 2020)


In this chapter we’re going to explore the origins of an idea we began to see in Chapter Three, when we studied Binti as a “master harmonizer.” The idea that lies behind the aspiration to be a master harmonizer seems to be a love, a care, a concern, or an affinity for all human beings or, we might even say, all sentient beings. What exactly does it mean to love, or be a friend to all human beings? Where does the idea and impulse come from? Who are the people who qualify as friends of humanity today and how does it relate to leadership? We’re going to look at a lot of examples of this, but will focus on one writing in particular.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was a journalist who is most famous for meticulously reporting on the practice of lynching in the American south in the Jim Crow era and for which she recently won the Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 2020: “For her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching” (for more on this award follow this link) . Wells was also a lifelong advocate for Civil Rights and was a founding member of the NAACP. In this chapter we are going to look at a speech she delivered to the American Association of Colored Educators in 1891 on “The Requisites of True Leadership.” In particular we are going to see that Wells considered love for humanity to be one of these four requisites and in fact the foundation of the other three. This is our opportunity to think about what love for humanity could and should look like for such a divided world in the early 21st century.


Take thirty minutes to write about a person, particularly in a leadership role or engaged in leadership activity, whom you consider to be a consistent “friend to humanity”. This could be a person you know, a person from history, a contemporary figure, or a character in literature, film, or other art form. As you sketch, consider the following:

  • What behaviors does your subject engage in that suggest they are a friend to humanity? Does this person seem happy/fulfilled in their friendship to humanity? Did this person need to overcome any hardships or hard feelings to be a friend to humanity?
  • What do you imagine informs your subject’s friendliness to humanity? Does it come from a sense of duty? An adherence to a certain religion or philosophy? Or does it seem like a spontaneous/natural impulse?
  • Would you describe this person as a philanthropist, a word, originally from ancient Greek, that literally means a “friend to humans”?
  • Can you think of people today who are referred to as “philanthropists” but who are not exactly friends to humanity?

Read Ida B. Wells’ “The Requisites of True Leadership” (1891). Why does Wells believe that love for humanity is necessary for leadership? Do you agree? 

Key Passages + Discussion

Passage One: The beginning of the tradition of being a “friend (philos) to humans (anthrōpoi)”: Axylos in Book Six of the Iliad, Lines 12-19 (c. 650 BCE)

Diomedes of the great war cry cut down Axylos, | Teuthras’ son, who had been a dweller in strong-founded Arisbe, | a man rich in substance and a friend [philos] to all humanity [anthrōpoi] | since in his house by the wayside he entertained all comers. | Yet there was none of these now to stand before him and keep off | the sad destruction, and Diomedes stripped life from both of them, | Axylos and his henchman Kalesios, who was the driver | guiding his horses; so down to the underworld went both men (Translation, Richmond Lattimore).

Listen to the audio commentary on this passage:

Compare Timon of Athens a fifth-century BCE historical/legendary figure who was exceedingly generous to everyone but became a misanthrope (=a hater of humans, the opposite of a philanthropos) when he ran out of money and his friends abandoned him. Timon, who is also the title character in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, is kind of a predecessor to Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Story

Passage Two (Xenophon Memorabilia 1.2.61, early 4th century BCE): Knowledge-sharing and improvement as a form of friendship to humans

Socrates brought distinction to the city in the eyes of the rest of humanity much more than Lichas, who was famous for his service to Sparta. For Lichas used to entertain guests in Sparta who were attending the gymnastic festivals, but Socrates, for his entire life, used to lavish the greatest of his gifts upon whoever wanted them. For when he sent his associates away he had made them better. 

Listen to the audio commentary on this passage:

Passage Three (Xenophon Symposium 4.64.3–8): Matchmaking as a form of friendship to humans:

Socrates: “The man who recognizes beneficial partners and can make them desire one another would, it seems to me, be able to make cities into friends and to forge useful marriages, and would be very valuable for cities and citizens to have as a friend or an ally.” 


Listen to the audio commentary on this passage:

Passage Four (Xenophon Education of Cyrus 8.2.2): showing sympathy and “being there for others” as a form of friendship to humans:

During the time, therefore, when he was not yet quite able to do favours through gifts of money, he tried to win the love of those about him by taking forethought for them and labouring for them and showing that he rejoiced with them in their good fortune and sympathized with them in their mishaps (Translation by Walter Miller). 

Listen to the audio commentary on this passage:

Passage Five: Ida B. Wells, “The Requisites of True Leadership” (1891), from The Light of Truth (p. 41)

And while devotion to principle or courage of conviction, perseverance and patience, and self-control are the predominating requisites of true leadership, over and above them all–embodying the truest leadership–is a deep and abiding love for humanity.

It is this which inspires devotion to principle; ennobles perseverance; gives the divine patience and tenderness so necessary in dealing with ignorance, superstition, and envy; and strengthens and encourages self-control. The world has never witnessed a sublime example of love for humanity than that of our blessed Savior whose life on earth was spent in doing good. We cannot hope to equal the infinite love, tenderness and patience with which He taught and served fallen humanity, but we can approximate it. Only in proportion as we do so is our leadership true. The reward of such love is expressed in the following poem [about Abou Ben adhem].

Listen to the audio commentary on this passage:

Plotting Your Leadership Development

Read Sam Walter Foss’ (1858-1911) “House by the Side of the Road”, which was composed around the time that Wells wrote “The Requisites of True Leadership” and was inspired by the passage about Axylos in the Iliad (see Passage One above). What are the forms that a friendship to humanity takes for Foss? What are these forms contrasted with? Do you share the sentiment of the poet in this passage, that’s it’s better to have one’s house metaphorically “by the side of the road”? Do you see an opportunity and a value for you to be more of a friend to humanity? If so, write a love letter to humanity declaring your intentions. If not, explain why you do not see yourself as a friend to humanity.

As you consider the degree of your own love of humanity, reflect on the following behaviors:

  • Are there certain things that you would do for any and all human beings under the right circumstances? For example, we sometimes hear it said of someone that they would “give you the shirt off their back.” Do you give to everyone? Do you greet everyone? Would you help everyone in need?
  • Do you consciously try to make everyone better who comes in contact with you by being the best person you can be so that you may rub off on them?
  • Do you make friends quickly?
  • Are you generous with your social network? Will you introduce one friend to another if you think there’s a good match?
  • Do human beings interest you?
  • Do you like hearing about the problems of other people and doing your best to solve them? Do you like taking forethought for others?
  • Do you take pleasure in the success of others, even when they are not bonded to you by ties of family or close friendship? Do you grieve when they grieve?
  • Are the goals you have for your career and your leadership the kinds of things that will benefit all humans if you are successful in reaching them?
  • Does your love of humanity inform your convictions, give you the strength to persevere, and allow you to show self-restraint in the face of “ignorance, superstition, and envy”?
  • What motivates your love for humanity?
    • pleasure in the success of others
    • a desire for allies
    • a desire for glory or a legacy
    • a divine or cosmic reward system (like winning the love of a divinity or a place in the afterlife)

I want to thank Carolivia Herron and Arti Mehta for introducing me to the works of Ida B. Wells.