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Ancient and Modern Thoughts on Leadership

Empathic relationships between leaders and their people are the foundation of Four Quadrant Leadership. This is affirmed in the words and actions of the world's greatest leaders. Misleaders such as Adolf Hitler would promise empathy, but instead deliver hostility or indifference to their followers.

Use the drop-down menu below to see quotes and stories on leadership. Or scroll down to see the full list.


1. Confucius - 600 BC - China

"What you do not wish done to yourself do not do to others."

2. Wu Chi - 400 BC - China

"Regard your soldiers as your children and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons and they will follow you to death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands and incapable moreover of quelling any disorder, then your soldiers will behave like spoiled children. They are then useless for any practical purpose."

3. Xenophon of Athens - 401 BC

"You must remember well that all those from whom you expect obedience will, on their part, expect you to take thought of them."

4. Jesus of Nazareth - 32 AD

"Let the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as one who serves... Joyful are those who can enter the minds of other people to see with their eyes, think with their minds and feel with their hearts, who show strength with gentleness... Love your neighbor as you love yourself ... Once I called you servants, but now I call you friends."

5. Abraham Lincoln - 1842

"When the conduct of people is designed to be influenced, kind, unassuming persuasion should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall. So with people. If you would win them to your cause, first convince them that you are their sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches hearts, which is the great high road to their reason, and which, once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing their judgment of the justice of your cause; but that cause must really be a just one. On the contrary, assume to dictate to their judgment, or to command their actions, or to mark them as people to be shunned and despised, and they will retreat within themselves and close all the avenues to their heads and their hearts. This must be understood by those who would be leaders."

Lincoln is remembered as one of the most respected Presidents in the history of the United States and perhaps its greatest leader.

Early in his political career he wrote, "Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. I have no other as great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem".

His success in achieving his goal of "preserving the Union" during the Civil War remains a memorial to his personal attributes and professional skills.

Many intimations of his feelings about people and his recognition of their need for meanings in the presence of chaos, suffering and bereavement were revealed in the comments he made when dedicating the war cemetery at Gettysburg on 19 November, 1863. He regarded that speech as a failure. It has become an outstanding tribute to a leader's vision, wisdom and empathy .

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here; but can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

The commanding general of the Confederate Armies, Robert E. Lee, surrendered on 9th April, 1865. Five days later, on the night of Good Friday, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

6. General Bernard Montgomery - 1942

"I made the soldiers partners with me in the battle. I always told them what I was going to do and what I wanted them to do. I think the soldiers felt that they mattered, that they belonged."

In August 1942 Lt. General Bernard Montgomery took command of the British 8th Army in North Africa. After a series of military catastrophes, administrative fiascoes and leadership disasters, Churchill had insisted that its Commander, General Auchinleck, be dismissed and replaced by General Gott. Soon afterwards, Gott died when the air transport carrying him on leave was shot down by German Fighters. Montgomery was appointed to replace him.

Here are selections from his address to senior officers of the demoralized 8th Army on 13 August 1942:

"I want first of all to introduce myself to you. You do not know me. I do not know you. But we have got to work together. Therefore we must understand each other and we must have confidence in each other. I have only been here a few hours. But from what I have seen and heard since I arrived I am prepared to say, here and now, that I have confidence in you. We will then work together as a team. And together we will gain the confidence of this great Army and go forward to final victory in Africa.

I believe that one of the first duties of a commander is to create what I call 'atmosphere', and in that atmosphere his staff, subordinate commanders, and troops will live and work and fight.

I do not like the general atmosphere I find here. It is an atmosphere of doubt, of looking back to select the next place to withdraw, of loss of confidence in our ability to defeat Rommel, of desperate defense measures by reserves in preparing positions in Cairo and the Delta.

All that must cease. Let us have a new atmosphere.

...Here we will stand and fight; there will be no further withdrawal. I have ordered that all plans and instructions dealing with further withdrawal are to be burned, and at once. We will stand and fight here. If we can't stay here alive, then let us stay here dead.

...Our mandate from the Prime Minister is to destroy the Axis forces in North Africa. I have seen it, written on half a sheet of note paper. And it will be done. If anyone here thinks it can't be done, let him go at once. I don't want any doubters in this party. It can be done, and it will be done, beyond any possibility of doubt.

Now I understand that Rommel is expected to attack at any moment. Excellent. Let him attack.

I would sooner it didn't come for a week, just to give me time to sort things out. If we have two weeks to prepare we will be sitting pretty. Rommel can attack as soon as he likes after that and I hope he does.

Meanwhile, we ourselves will start to plan a great offensive. It will be the beginning of a campaign which will hit Rommel and his Army right out of Africa.

...I have no intention of launching our great attack until weare completely ready. There will be pressure from many quarters to attack soon. I will not attack until we are ready and you can rest assured on that point.

...I understand there has been a great deal of 'belly-aching' out here. By 'belly-aching' I mean inventing poor reasons for not doing what one has been told to do. All this will stop at once.

If anyone objects to doing what he is told then he can get out and at once. I want that made very clear right down through the Eighth Army.

What I have done is to get over to you the atmosphere in which we will now work and fight. You must see that that atmosphere permeates right down through the Eighth Army to the most junior private soldier. All the soldiers must know what is wanted. When they see it coming to pass there will be a surge of confidence throughout the Army. I ask you to give me your confidence and to have faith that what I have said will come to pass

...The Chief-of-Staff will be issuing orders on many points very shortly and I am always available to be consulted by the senior officers of the staff. The great point to remember is that we are going to finish with this chap Rommel once and for all. It will be quite easy. There is no doubt about it."

Matching his words with actions, Montgomery rapidly restored the energies and skills of the people in his command. Inevitably, many senior officers resented this revolution. Some were dismissed for incompetence or failure to obey orders.

The changes he demanded were finally vindicated at the Battle of Alamein, beginning 23 October 1942 and lasting twelve days. Large German and Italian armies led by General Irwin Rommell were defeated. Six months later all Axis forces had been removed from North Africa. Between Alamein and the end of World War II the 8th Army never lost a battle.

Major Sir William Mather commented on Montgomery:

"Soon after his arrival at the Eighth Army HQ we all started to call him 'Master'. He walked up and down just like Napoleon with his hands behind his back for three days. Then he went into his caravan and wrote out what was really the order of battle for the battle of Alamein on fourteen pages of foolscap note paper. There was very little change thereafter. He expounded exactly how the battle would take place. What amazed all of us was that it was so easy to remember what he said. It was so clear. And it all happened."

7. General Dwight Eisenhower - 1945

"A sense of humility is a quality I have observed in every leader whom I have deeply admired. I have seen Winston Churchill with humble tears of gratitude on his cheeks as he thanked people for their help to Britain and the Allied cause.

My own conviction is that every leader should have enough humility to accept publicly the responsibility for the mistakes of the subordinates he himself has selected and likewise give them credit publicly for their triumphs... I believe that in the long run fairness and honesty and a generous attitude to subordinates and associates pays off."

8. Field Marshall Lord Slim - 1957

"The real test of leadership is not if your men will follow you in success but if they will stick by you in defeat and hardship. They will not do that unless they believe you to be honest and to have care for them.

I once had under me a battalion that had not done well in a fight. I went to see why. I found the men in the jungle, tired and hungry, dirty, jumpy, some of them wounded, sitting about miserably, doing nothing.

I looked for the commanding officer, any officer; but none could be seen. Then, as I rounded the bush, I realized why the battalion had failed. Collected under a tree were the officers, eating a meal while the men went hungry. Those officers had forgotten the tradition of the Service, that they look after their men's wants before their own. I was compelled to remind them.

I hope they never again forget the integrity and unselfishness that always permeates good leadership. I have never known men to fail to respond to them.

The raw material of leadership is there in Australian workers. Properly led they are as good as any and more intelligent than most. But the words 'properly led' are vital. Australian industry deserves and will need leaders, not just efficient managers.

In industry you will never have to ask people to do the stark things demanded of soldiers; but the people you employ are the same people. Instead of rifles they handle tools; instead of guns they serve machines. They have changed their khaki and jungle-green for workshop overalls and civil suits. But they are the same people and they will respond to leadership of the right kind just as they have always done.

Infuse your management with leadership. Then they will show their mettle in the workshop as they have on the battlefield. Like me, they would rather be led than managed. Wouldn't you?

People can improve their powers of leadership by a little thought and practice."

9. Lord Hunt - 1959
(Leader of first group to conquer Everest)

"Firstly, I will give you my definition of leadership, as applied to someone to whom other people are entrusted. To me, it is best described as the art of inspiring others to give of their best and the courage to use this art. This is what leadership means to me. It demands that the leader operates from inside his group, not from above it; that in setting a good example, he does not steal the initiative of the others; in other words, that he takes his full share - but no more than his share - of the job in hand. This implies a willingness not merely to decentralize, or apportion the burden, but an ability to persuade each other member of the group that his is an equally essential job, and that each has his own liberty as well as responsibility to develop that part as a whole.

Good leadership derives from a right attitude to the job of leading; that this is only one of the jobs to be done. A leader has been well described as a 'first companion.' Then, of course, it is the art of blending the efforts of everyone concerned to produce a combined result. "

10. Max De Pree

"Leaders owe a covenant to the corporation or institution, which is, after all, a group of people. Leaders owe the organization a new reference point for what caring, purposeful, committed people can be in the institutional setting. Notice I did not say what people can do - what we can do is merely a consequence of what we can be. Corporations, like the people who compose them, are always in a state of becoming. Covenants bind people together and enable them to meet their corporate needs by meeting the needs of one another."

(De Pree, M. Leadership is an Art. New York: Dell Publishing, 1989.)

11. John Adair

"All leaders can and should aspire to being 'one of the best.' Real excellence goes hand-in-hand with humility, that unlikely leadership virtue. Humility includes both seeing the truth about oneself and also being open to learning more about good leadership. It suggests, too, that necessary sense of the greatness in others. For the test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already."

(Adair, John. Great Leaders. London: Talbot Adair Press. 1989.)

12. Warren Bennis

"People in positions of authority must be alert, curious, impatient, brave, steadfast, truthful, and in focus; they must not only know what they see but say what they see. Gandhi said, 'We must be the change we wish to see in the world. ' Thus, if people in authority believe that competence and conscience must be restored, then they must demonstrate both..."

(Bennis, Warren. Why Leaders Can't Lead. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 1989.)

13. General Norman Schwarzkopf

Before the Gulf War.

"I lie in bed at night and think of this whole awesome responsibility that's been put on my shoulders. I just remind myself that there are thousands of great leaders out there who, even if I screw up, they'll sort it out and make it right."

After the Gulf War.

"I'm not a hero, and that's important. It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. Military families are as much heroes as the troops are. If you love a military person you're going to sacrifice a lot. So all I want to say to the families is this,'Thanks for loving us'."

The relationships and techniques of Four Quadrant Leadership are based on evidence about the potent and pervasive processes which shape constructive energies and productive skills in leaders and in their people. It highlights the responsibilities of leaders in using their insight and empathy to discern undiscovered potentials in their colleagues, inspiring them to release and develop their fullest powers and to cooperate with each other in affirming shared values and striving for difficult goals which will not be achieved unless they work together.

14. Moses and the Leadership Consultant

One of the first leadership advisors of ancient history is featured in the Book of Exodus, chapter eighteen.

Moses, a senior official in Pharaoh's Egyptian bureaucracy, was descended from Hebrew immigrants. Most of them were victims of severe racial and religious persecution. Worried by their sufferings, Moses developed a strong conviction that the God of the Hebrews had recruited him to lead their escape from Egypt through the desert and into their old homeland, now called Israel.

Terrified by this assignment, he tried desperately to avoid it. With low skills and low energies, his job efficiency and leadership efficiency were hopelessly inadequate for the gigantic problems he would face in controlling a motley collection of reluctant tribes whose members would soon curse him for taking them on a hazardous journey.

Knowing nothing about the techniques and relationships required for effective leadership, Moses established himself as an addicted Quadrant 1 manager. His father-in-law Jethro volunteered to be an honorary consultant.

This is how his advice is summarized in the Bible:

"Next day, as Moses was holding a popular court, with the people surrounding him from morning to night, the father-in-law of Moses noticed all his labor for the people and said to him, 'What is this you are doing? Why sit alone as a judge, with the people all round you from morning to night?' Moses said to his father-in-law, 'Because the people come to me to get God's own decision in their cases; whenever they have any disputes, they come to me, I decide between one man and another, and let them hear the rules and directions of God.'

The father-in-law of Moses said to him. 'You are not doing right. You will wear yourself out, you and your people. This work is too heavy for you, and you cannot manage it alone. Now listen to me, let me advise you, that God may be with you. You represent God to the people, laying their cases before God and instructing them in his rules and directions, letting them see how they are to live and what they are to do; but look out some capable men among the people, religious men, honest men, who scorn unjust profits and appoint them to supervise groups of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. Let them act as judges in ordinary cases. They can refer any special case to you and judge lesser matters by themselves. That will make things easier for you, as they share the work with you.

If you do this, supposing that God so orders you, then you can stand the strain, and all the people will go home satisfied.'

Moses listened to what his father-in-law said, and did exactly as he told him. He chose capable men out of all Israel, and put them at the head of the people, over groups of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. They acted as judges in ordinary cases, deciding lesser matters by themselves, and referring difficult cases to Moses. Then Moses let his father-in-law go and he took himself to his own country."

The events following this counseling conversation became one of the best known sagas about the problems of leadership. After confronting multitudes of logistical problems, a hostile environment, uncooperative followers and his own personal inadequacies, Moses led the Hebrew tribes to the border of their Promised Land. Climbing a mountain, he looked across the Jordan River to the southern areas of the country we now call Israel. He died there, soon afterwards. Joshua, his deputy, finally led the migration across the Jordan.

15. Martin Luther King

During their years as slaves in the United States, black people constantly sang and talked about the day when they would cross the Jordan and reach the promised land of freedom from the barbarity of slavery.

Martin Luther King frequently used stories from the Old Testament when encouraging and inspiring people to join together in the struggle for liberation from racial discrimination and the persecution of prejudices.

During childhood King had an uncontrollable temper. Mahatma Gandhi had a similar problem. Both of them realized that they would have to overcome this weakness before they could successfully lead their crusades for liberation.

In his last speech, given at Memphis on April 3, 1968, he identified himself again with Moses, prophesying his own death.

0n the following afternoon Martin Luther King was assassinated.

16. Adolf Hitler

Leader of the Nazi Party Fuhrer of Germany 1933-45

Hitler ranks high among the most destructive tyrants and misleaders in history. Exploiting the widespread economic and social disasters afflicting Germany in the post World War I period, he promised a "Thousand Year Reich". But the political system he created disappeared with his suicide.

Hitler was supremely defective in all the essential techniques and relationships needed for effective leadership. He was an alarming illustration of two principles:

1. When men and women with serious unsolved personal problems are given power in nations, families or organizations, the people under their control will become their victims.

2. When intelligent human beings lack meanings in their own lives and are threatened by chronic anxieties they are very vulnerable to exploitation by manipulators who diminish their own inadequacies by gaining subservience, devotion and blind loyalty from others.

Here are some comments on Hitler by one of his biographers, Ronald Lewin

"We are compelled to face, at the outset, an element in Hitler's personality which radically affected his vision of ends that might be achieved and fatally misled him in his choice of means. His egoism was so comprehensive that there was no field in which he could tolerate the possibility of anyone but himself being in absolute control.

He was a man for whom 'I' was more precious than 'Idea'. From this inversion many of his mistakes derived.

On 22 April 1945, when the Russians were already forcing their way into Berlin, Hitler held a long and tempestuous conference and flew into a rage. He shrieked that he had been deserted; he railed at the Army; he denounced all traitors; he spoke of universal treason, failure, corruption, and lies. Then exhausted he declared that the end had come. At last, and for the first time, he despaired of his mission. All was over. The Third Reich was a failure, and its author had nothing left to do but die. Germany had failed Hitler, not Hitler Germany, so he was prepared in revenge to smash Germany into the dust and then die to avoid the personal degradation of becoming a captive of the U.S.S.R."

(Lewin, Ronald. Hitler's Mistakes. London: Lee Cooper, 1984.)


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