• 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 spotting the bad mentee

As for how a leader should assess a minister, there is one infallible guide: when you see the minister thinking more of herself than of you, and seeking her own profit in everything she does, she will not be able to carry out her duties appropriately, and you will never be able to trust her. Those who agree to become ministers must be able to think first of the good of the organization and concentrate on helping the leader succeed, rather than directly advancing their personal ambitions. Such men and women may, and often do, aspire to higher leadership themselves and rightly see the ministerial office as a step along that path, but while they are serving as ministers, they must subordinate their personal goals to those of the leader whom they have agreed to serve. If they cannot do this, they should find some other occupation.–Nan Keohane, political scientist and first female president of Duke University (“On Leadership,” p. 708)


In this chapter we are going to read a short story by the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, called “El Muerto.” The main character, Benjamin Otálara, is what we might think of as a “bad mentee” and thus serves as a point of comparison for our previous explorations of the mentor-mentee relationship (Athena and Telemachus in the Odyssey and Odysseus and Neoptolemus in Sophocles’ Philoctetes). We will again take up this topic in Chapter Ten in Disney’s Moana. The particular relevance of this story to leadership is that Benjamin Otálara can help us think more carefully about the kinds of people we want to collaborate with and the kinds we want to avoid.


Follow this link and complete the exercises in the sections marked Parts 1-8.

Plotting Your Leadership Development

This week we have spent a lot of time trying to get inside the head of Benjamin Otálara, including an attempt to understand his motivations. This is, then, a good occasion to begin reflecting on the question of what motivation (or motivations) someone ever finds to engage in leadership activity (why not just look out for and improve oneself?). Posted below are nine general motivations that might cause someone to engage in leadership, along with some brief observations about the personality and behaviors associated with the motivation. As you read these, consider the following questions:

  1. Which (if any) of these motivations do you detect in yourself? Try as much as possible to be honest with yourself in acknowledging even the motivations that you consider not that praiseworthy.
  2. Which of these motivations do you detect in others? Do you have a friend, coworker, classmate, or family member who exhibits these motivations? (You might also reflect on the motivations of other characters we have read about, e.g., Athena, Binti, Lysistrata, Neoptolemus, Acevedo Bandeira.) What do these people do to reveal their motivations?
  3. How well do you think others are at diagnosing their own motivations to lead? What might you do to make them more aware?

Motivation One: A sense of duty or obligation

The person showing leadership may be acting out of the sense that leadership is owed to others because specific others have done something for them or because the community at large has done something. This may be tied to a sense of gratitude or fairness arising from a feeling of mutual obligation among community members. The duty might also be tied to some contractual obligation or it might be construed broadly under a theological or humanitarian rationale that we are all obliged to help each other or that our very capacity to help mandates that we do so. We might expect someone with this sense of duty also to have feelings of loyalty and high degrees of trustworthiness and conscientiousness. In Plato’s Republic Socrates and the other interlocutors imagine that a philosopher would be willing to rule the ideal city-state (Kallipolis) out of a sense of justice, i.e., to pay back the city-state for overseeing the philosopher’s education.

Motivation Two: In order be in control or have power

The person showing leadership has the sense that they are best at fixing the problems facing the community (problems that may affect the person in question as well) and this person worries that things may go badly if they do not intervene and take charge. They might also have a general sense of insecurity or unease at the thought of others being in charge based on their own inability to predict what will happen. This motivation might derive from an accurate or inaccurate appraisal of the competency of others and themselves. Such a person likes to see things in order or organized. Such a person generally has a high confidence that they know the “right way” to do things better than others and this person may be inclined to micromanage.

Motivation Three: Domination

The person showing leadership has a strong desire to be in control per se–not so much because they believe they are best at achieving order or organization or because they envision the general well-being of the community (though they may claim these things in order to justify their dominance). In this person there is a satisfaction, perhaps sadistic, of being “over” or “on top of” others. It is a desire to give orders and watch others follow them, a glee at being obeyed for its own sake. Such a person is inclined to flex their authority, threaten, bully, plot against others, and generally to view the world as a constant zero-sum rivalry between winners and losers. This person will sometimes defend the drive to dominance as a kind of natural law (“survival of the fittest”, “do or die”) or on the grounds that it inspires everyone to become their best. Such a person will often argue that their leadership is necessary specifically for the purpose of eliminating perceived threats from both inside and outside the community.

Motivation Four: Honor, praise, recognition

The person showing leadership desires to be regarded highly or favorably in the minds, speech, and memorials of their community members. Such a person may or may not care that the regard is merited. Such a person may find it hard to recognize the achievements of others for fear or diminishing their own status. This person may pursue leadership in environments where performance is easier to be quantified and ranked, e.g., in academia (grades, number of publications, prestige of journals), athletics, the military, or politics.

Motivation Five: Prestige

The person showing leadership has a desire to stand out or be distinguished, on a regular basis, in social or political settings, e.g., by occupying special seats at a performance, wearing special clothing, or adorning themselves with special implements (badges, medals, signs of group affiliation) that make them the center of attention or mark them out as somehow “better”. They themselves often pursue opportunities to perform, e.g., by speaking often or more frequently in group settings, especially where there is a large audience that is itself populated by “prestigious” people. Such a person seems to take pleasure in the sound of their own voice and warms to the thought of others hanging on their every word. They seek every opportunity to be seen and may not give as much thought to seeing others or ensuring that others are seen.

Motivation Six: Love of design

The person showing leadership takes an intrinsic enjoyment in drawing up plans/rules/laws, coming up with a coherent vision, or just figuring out how everyone can work together as a team in a happy, harmonious way. Such a person enjoys intellectual challenges that involve many variables and offer the opportunity to be creative in problem-solving. Such a person might really enjoy games, or explaining the rules of games to others. Leading, under this motivation, might be akin to architecture, gardening, or perhaps weaving, any craft that involves long-range planning. Such a person might find it difficult to listen to or entertain the ideas and visions of others because they have dedicated a lot of time and thought to their own vision and thus remain stubbornly committed to it. Such a person might find it difficult to take everyone’s needs into account if they do not fit “the” vision and thus might see themselves as a gardener who needs to remove a few “weeds”.

Motivation Seven: Love of humanity

The person showing leadership has a generalized and indiscriminate desire for all humans to fare well and takes a general pleasure in the success of others and has concern for their misfortune that is not tied to any particular advantage for themselves and is not tied to a particular group affiliation, like family, tribe, state, or political party. This person has a desire for the overall condition of humans to improve, e.g., in terms of health, safety, education, dignity, or comfort. This desire may be informed and inspired by the example of a divinity or it may derive from a deep connectivity or empathy with others, including random strangers. Such a person may see and feel all others as extensions of themselves and vice-versa.

Motivation Eight: Nurturing concern

The person showing leadership takes pleasure in working closely and intimately with others to address their needs. This person might be described as akin to a parent, a nurse, a physician, or a healer in the way that they listen closely to diagnose problems, express sympathy, and tend to others moment-by-moment as the needs arise. Such a person tends to be vigilant and attentive to detail.

Motivation Nine: Profit

The person showing leadership seeks monetary compensation for their services, often along with other material benefits and perks, like cars, clothes, stock options, retirement plans, and the like. Such a person typically sees this compensation as essential to their leadership, if not the principal motivation.

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