What Spartan Battle Shields Can Teach Us About Leadership

Spartan fighting forces were notorious for developing some of the fiercest and most effective soldiers in the ancient world. The Spartan army routinely beat the odds by defeating opponents with much larger armies and much better military equipment. Their unique organizational tactics, uncompromising culture, and fearlessness allowed them achieve seemingly impossible feats in the face of overwhelming odds.

The aspis was a circular shield with a slight curvature, a wooden or leather laminated support underneath, and a bronze covering on the exterior. Each warrior was expected to protect their shield with their life. The shield was more than just another piece of military equipment, it was a deeply symbolic part of a Spartan solider’s identity. Spartan women are said to have sent their sons off to war with a stern reminder:

“Return with your shield or on it.”

The importance placed on the shield was not primarily connected to a soldier’s personal well-being, but to the greater good of the entire fighting force. The size and shape of the aspis allowed a soldier to protect the blind spots of his fellow companions in the heat of battle. Each soldier would cover for the man next to him which in turn would allow the man next to them the freedom and confidence to fight with bravery—because they were not worried about protecting their own blindspot.

As one Spartan King said regarding the importance of the shield, “because the latter [other armors] they put on for their own protection, but the shield for the common good of the whole line.”

Every great team must have their own shield to protect themselves (and their team) against hostile influences that want to destroy them. Just as the Spartans used their shields to ward off approaching enemies, effective leaders equip their teams with the necessary tools to protect the interests of the group at all cost.


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What’s Next?

The greatest leaders often ask the most useful questions. One single question that all transformative leaders are asking themselves, is simply, “what’s next?” Because the best leaders understand that the calling of leadership is never a 9-5 affair, they are relentless in finding ways to tweak their culture, their program, and their team for the better.

Leadership is not a job that you leave at the office. Great leaders do not hold office hours. because their door is always open. Transformative leaders are the men and women who approach leadership as a calling not an occupation. They are constantly tweaking, brainstorming, discussing, and discovering the nuances that will help take their team to an elite level of performance.

Asking, “what’s next?” is the internal dialogue that great leaders have with themselves, hundreds (if not thousands) of times every day. Many coaches will preach, a “next play” mentality to their players. They will harp on the benefits of forgetting the successes of failures of the past in order to focus on the present moment. Leaders must always practice what they preach. They must lead by example when it comes to a “next play” mentality by constantly asking themselves “what’s next?”.


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The Single Decision

Each day, there is one single decision that stares each of us in the face. The decision that lies before each of us is the question of excellence. The question of excellence can not be broken down into component parts. It can not be divided into sub-goals or part-time aspirations. Rather, the single decision we all have to make is whether we have the courage, conviction, and toughness to walk the path of excellence.

I want to encourage each of you to make the decision TODAY that will help you stay the course tomorrow (or next week, next month, or next year!) when you come across a difficult part in your journey. Once the decision is made, there is no turning back. Once the decision is made you will have no choice but to continue pushing through the frustration and obstacles that stand in your way.

Here’s what the former Men’s National Gymnastics team Coach had to say about the single decision that we are all faced with (excerpt from Tim Ferris’ Book, Tools of Titans):

Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence. In fact, it is essential and something that every single elite athlete has had to learn to deal with. If the pursuit of excellence was easy, everyone would do it. In fact, this impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals. Unreasonable expectations timewise, resulting in unnecessary frustration, due to a perceived feeling of failure. Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process. The secret is to show up, do the work, and go home. A blue collar work ethic married to indomitable will. It is literally that simple. Nothing interferes. Nothing can sway you from your purpose. Once the decision is made, simply refuse to budge. Refuse to compromise. And accept that quality long-term results require quality long-term focus. No emotion. No drama. No beating yourself up over small bumps in the road. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the process. This is especially important because you are going to spend far more time on the actual journey than with those all too brief moments of triumph at the end. Certainly celebrate the moments of triumph when they occur. More importantly, learn from defeats when they happen. In fact, if you are not encountering defeat on a fairly regular basis, you are not trying hard enough. And absolutely refuse to accept less than your best. Throw out a timeline. It will take what it takes. If the commitment is to a long-term goal and not to a series of smaller intermediate goals, then only one decision needs to be made and adhered to. Clear, simple, straightforward. Much easier to maintain than having to make small decision after small decision to stay the course when dealing with each step along the way. This provides far too many opportunities to inadvertently drift from your chosen goal. The single decision is one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox.

Christopher Sommer (Tools of Titans)

Make your decision today!

 

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How to Measure Your Leadership

 

The success of the indispensable leader is not measured in the number of units produced but by the number of people they can inspire. One of the clearest metrics by which great leaders can be judged, is to the extent that their teams work with passion, conviction, and purpose.

 We are all longing for authentic leadership that invites us into a culture created around something more important than personal accomplishment. The indispensable leader is the conduit through which their followers are able to join that kind of a culture.

Indispensable leaders understand that the effectiveness of their leadership is dependent on how well they serve, love , and inspire those around them to greatness.

Leaders, differentiate yourself by how well you serve, how deeply you love, and much you inspire. Make a difference not by how many games you win, but by how many lives you impact.

Indispensable leadership starts with a commitment to helping others succeed. Define your leadership by a different set of metrics, a new kind of data. 

Don’t settle for average, never settle for “just good enough”, instead, strive for indispensable. Dig a little deeper, train a little bit harder, care a little bit more and watch the people around you rise to greatness.


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What Makes You an Indispensable Leader

The modern economy is moving away from people to act like machines and towards people who can add a different kind of value. The blue-collar jobs on factory floors are slowly disappearing as technology encroaches on an economic model of years past.

The new economy demands authenticity because people can smell inauthentic leadership a thousand miles away. We are starving for original thinkers and artists who can cultivate an experience that wows and inspires us.

The leadership of the future will no longer be measured in the number of units produced but by the number of people you can inspire. Indispensable leaders are the ones who creativity overwhelms their sense of duty; who are able to problem solve in a world that spits out new challenges minute by minute.

Only you can make yourself indispensable. Only you can push yourself to explore the nuances of your craft when most people settle for being mediocre. Only you can push past your perceived limits. A mediocre leader simply completes the task assigned to them, but an indispensable leader  pushes past the boundary of average and into the realm of possibility.

Don’t settle for average, rather, strive for indispensable. Dig a little deeper, train a little bit harder, care a little bit more and watch the people around you rise to greatness. 

Start exploring, start creating, start making yourself indispensable today.


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