Herodotus was a Greek, writing from Egypt, almost 2500 years ago.
Here is a summary of his report of three Greeks who were debating the optimum form of government (or leadership) for Persia; i.e. monarchy, oligarchy or democracy.
Otanes, spoke first by rejecting monarchy and proposing democracy. “The typical vices of a monarch are envy and pride; envy because it is a natural human weakness and, pride, because excessive wealth and power lead to the delusion that he is something more than a man…contrast this with the rule of the people; first it has the finest of all names to describe it – equality under law; and, secondly, the people in power do none of the things that monarchs do. …a magistrate is appointed…and is held responsible for his conduct in office and all questions are put up for open debate.”
Then Megabyzus rejected democracy and spoke on behalf of oligarchy. “In so far as Otanes spoke in favour of abolishing monarchy I agree with him; but he is wrong in asking us to transfer political power to the people. The masses are a feckless lot – nowhere will you find more ignorance or irresponsibility or violence. It would be an intolerable thing to escape the murderous caprice of a king, only to be caught by the equally wanton brutality of the rabble. …..let us ourselves choose a certain number of the best men in the country, and give them political power…..the best men will produce the best policy.
The third to speak was Darius. “I support all of Megabyzus’ remarks about the masses but I do not agree with what he said about oligarchy. Take the three forms of government we are considering – democracy, oligarchy and monarchy….and suppose each of them to be the best of its kind; I maintain that the third is greatly preferable to the other two. One ruler….provided he is the best. In an oligarchy…men…compete for distinction..each of them wants to get to the top to see his own proposals carried…quarrels lead to civil wars and then to bloodshed. In a democracy, malpractices…and corrupt dealings in government services lead not to private feuds, but to close personal associations, the men responsible…mutually supporting one another…until someone comes forward as the peoples champion…this wins him the admiration of the mob…and as a result he soon finds himself entrusted with absolute power – all of which is another proof that the best form of government is monarchy”
I will not spoil the story by telling you how it ends. You’ll have to read that for yourself.
I have repeated the story here because it occurs to me that it is 2500 years on we are still debating the merits of leadership styles. Plus ça change, but it made me ask:
- With which of these three do I sympathise?
- Which is dominant in my organisation?
Let me know what you think.
About the Author: Adam Blackie is a professional Interim Manager who leads service delivery teams through their change programmes. He works with CEO’s and their Boards in the UK to change the way technology is used by staff and their customers.