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Leadership Lessons From the Classics

Monday, June 22, 2020
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Michelle here. After an ATD in-person conference a few years ago, I approached one of the speakers to continue the discussion. I was fascinated when he said despite all the recent advances in neuroscience, or maybe because of it, we know that there has been nothing new in leadership since Cicero.

My immediate thought was that was such an extreme comment. While it seems that so many people are searching for new leadership ideas for these disrupted times, it is as comforting as a favorite family recipe passed down through generations that the classicists’ ideas still resonate and are implementable. Here are a few examples:

Aristotle: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

We know that on-the-job training for all different skill sets, including leadership, comes from on-the-job learning and practice. As learning professionals, we can encourage individuals to take risks when they are acquiring new skills and help managers create a learning culture.

Cicero: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”

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Research from the Wharton School has shown that managers who express gratitude to their employees may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Learning professionals can teach some common gratitude exercises, like mentoring, to employees and work with leadership to embed gratitude as part of the company culture.

Plato: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others.”

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There is much literature about how a leader leaves a legacy, from initiatives led to people mentored. From coaching and classes, learning professionals can help individuals clarify and formulate an action plan or statement about building their legacy.

Marykate here. When I read Michelle’s thoughts, I started thinking about the classics I have read and what makes them so. There is something that is timeless about a classic; however, what invites us to enter them again is their ability to continue influencing us. The book is the same, yet we gain new perspectives and insights because we are different readers. How many times have we come across a great article or training model and “learned” it again? It is important to allow learners to explore things more than once so they can evolve their leadership practices.

I think another important aspect of this is context and culture. When we provide learning, is it suitable to the learner’s context? What is our role in creating a learning culture for all in our organizations?

MZ
About the Author

Michelle Zager is with The Treasury Executive Institute, a government shared service providing leadership development and services for over 40 different government agencies.

MD
About the Author

Marykate Dougherty is with The Treasury Executive Institute, a government shared service providing leadership development and services for over 40 different government agencies.

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