Alexander the Not-So-Great

According to legend, when Alexander the Great saw that his empire stretched across the entire known world, he wept for there were no more kingdoms left to conquer. Whether true or mythical, the story powerfully portrays Alexander’s goal-drivenness. The ambitious general always set his sights on new lands to add to his domain. Once he made up his mind to conquer a territory, Alexander the Great was unstoppable. He was a brilliant general: courageous in battle, firm in command of his troops, and ingenious as a military tactician. The scope of his success, and the speed with which he extended his realm, is astounding. By the age of 30, Alexander ruled over an empire spanning three continents and covering more than two million square miles.

GOALS OR GROWTH?

Set a goal and achieve it, see it and seize it—that was how Alexander operated as a leader. He measured success in terms of attaining his goals. While there’s nothing wrong with goals, leaders ought to prioritize personal growth over goal-setting. Leaders who concentrate excessively on goals are at risk of complacency when they achieve them and in danger of crushing disappointment if they fail to reach them. They’re also in jeopardy of letting bottom-line results blind them to importance of developing relationships. 

Goal-conscious leaders focus on events. Growth-conscious leaders focus on the process.

Alexander the Great obsessively plotted future conquests, and he thought single-mindedly about the battlefield. As historian Robin Waterfield notes, “Alexander seems to have concerned himself little with administration, beyond the bare minimum necessary for an ongoing conqueror to secure his rear.” Alexander the Great ignored the difficult process of consolidating his conquered territories. He failed to build the governing structure necessary to secure and sustain his vast empire, and it disintegrated after his death.

Goal-conscious leaders motivate people. Growth-conscious leaders mature people.

Alexander the Great was a masterful motivator of men. He convinced his soldiers to march thousands of miles in harsh conditions, risking their lives in one military campaign after another for the sake of military glory.  Yet he never developed a successor.

John D. Grainger, in his book Alexander the Great Failure, describes how the downfall of Alexander the Great’s empire can be traced to his disregard for developing leaders.

He was ultimately responsible for the failure of his imperial enterprise; for he was king of a society where the king was absolutely central to the well-being of the society as a whole. When the king failed, the Macedonian kingdom imploded…For the good of his people, Alexander needed an adult successor, and he both refused to provide one, and killed off any man who could be seen as one…the consequence was 50 years of warfare after his death, and the destruction of his empire.

THOUGHT TO PONDER

At some point, you may have written down a set of goals for your career—a promotion you’d like to receive, a level of profits you’d like your organization to achieve, etc.

These goals are fine to have, but I’d also like to challenge you to write down:

1) The ways you would like to grow as a person. That is, list out the traits you would like to develop as part of your character: courage, kindness, gratefulness, honesty, etc. What steps are you taking to grow into the sort of person you aspire to be?

2) The people you would like to develop as leaders. List out the most important relationships in your life. How are you serving and adding value to their lives in order to help them grow?

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