Notes from Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War

  • Respect the elders.
  • Give your team vision and purpose. This can be done by presenting the past accomplishments of ancestors as good achievements, but still too short of greatness; that it’s their time, here and now.
  • Followers follow out of self-interest. Keep their interests met. Give them good health and good morale.
  • Leadership is not a destination. It’s forever. There are no trophies or spoils; these and the undoings of leaders.
  • Never give your men false hopes. This can happen from lofty ambitions or unmet goals. They’ll lose faith. If they believe disaster is around the corner, they will not come along for ant pursuit, no matter how noble you make it sound.
  • Danger your outmatched for will one day make its way to you. You can either accept failure and resign, or you can fight it eagerly, committing every ounce you can gather, but no less.
  • “I deeply believe that leaders, whatever their profession, are wrong to allow distinction of rank to flourish within their organizations.” Otherwise it leads to desertion or damages morale.
  • A psychological advantage can mean the difference between victory and defeat: Syazarees was in no great hurry to pursue a Persian-Mede alliance, despite the impending danger that lurked and the soldiers that readied for combat. Fearing they’d lose morale Cyrus continued their training and competition. However, he knew this would only keep their spirits high for so long. Cyrus gathered his men and confronted the Persian king, displaying their eagerness to move forward, rather than wait for their enemies to enter their territory. “If going forward we’re more dangerous than staying here, the wiser plan would be to stay. Whether we stay or go, the enemy’s numbers will be much the same – and so will our own – but the spirit of our soldiers will rise higher if we’re all marching against the foe and not wasting time here.”
  • Reward your good men. Set them as examples for others to strive so they too can be rewarded with opportunities.
  • Confidence is earned. It is the reward of victory. Fighting in familiar surrounds and lands may seem like an advantage, but if it brings only confidence you will surely lose.
  • “Success always calls for greater generosity – those most people, lost in the darkness of their egos, treat it as an occasion for greater greed.”