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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