3 Quotes on leadership from Plutarch’s essay “To an uneducated leader”

I’m sharing these notes to encourage you, reader, to read To an Uneducated Leader by Plutarch. My copy is in the book “How to Be a Leader: An Ancient Guide to Wise Leadership,” by Plutarch, selected, translated, and introduced by Jeffrey Beneker. The quotes that follow are from that edition.

It took me perhaps 10 minutes to read it this evening, and it was so poignant that I picked up a highlighter and started dog-earing pages.

Here’s the first quote.

…those who govern must first achieve governance of themselves, straighten out their souls, and set their character aright…for the one who is tipping over cannot straighten up someone else, nor can the ignorant person teach, the disorderly establish order, the disorganized organize, the ungoverned govern.

Plutarch, “To an uneducated leader,” sec. 2

This one I took as a good reminder to never stop challenging myself as a leader, really as a human, to strive for inner strength from, as it says, a straightened soul and righted character. We’re each on a journey.

Here’s the second quote.

In truth, kings are afraid for their subjects, while tyrants are afraid of their subjects.

Plutarch, “To an uneducated leader,” sec 4

Today I read a news article about a Costco location that unionized, which is unusual for Costco. The CEO’s remarks were, I thought, sincere in that they conveyed a sense of regret that owing to the failure of management to attend properly to the well-being of the staff, the staff felt the need to unionize.

Many leaders, say from Starbucks, would react with a degree of political hostility to unions, and that speaks to a fear of their subjects—or at least not the right regard for the responsibilities of leadership.

For a king to be afraid for their subjects implies the awareness that it would be easy for a decision made by a king in an emotion-fueled and unreasonable state to cause great harm, intended or not, to their subjects.

Yet the duty of a leader is to work for the benefit, well-being, common good, and protection of those in their care. With that burden and the awareness of all that may threaten the people’s well-being, being afraid for one’s subjects is easier to comprehend.

Here’s the last quote.

…cracked souls cannot contain political power, but they leak with desire, anger, boasting, and vulgarity.

Plutarch, “To an uneducated leader,” sec 7

This one, I’m sad to say, simply reminded me of a series of politicians in the US who make headlines that evidence those symptoms of cracked souls. Why is it so hard for wise, educated leaders to make it to Washington?

“To an uneducated leader” is a short and wonderfully insightful essay. For any leader on a journey toward excellence, I recommend it.

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