Here at the Academy, and in this class, we have learned about many different leaders. Leaders from Sargon of Akkad to Genghis Khan and from John Paul Jones to Vice Admiral James Stockdale, all of which led in different manners and with different intentions. Some leaders were tyrannical and ruled their people with fear while others inspired those beneath them and led them to accomplish great things. While there are countless examples of inspirational leaders from the past several centuries, such examples are more difficult to find in premodern times. However, one example of a leader from the ancient era that inspired their people and was able to accomplish the unimaginable was Alexander the Great.
Alexander the Great built himself an extraordinary legacy due to his unparalleled success on the battlefield. By the time he was 30 years old, he had conquered and controlled one of the largest empires of the ancient world. One of his greatest assets that allowed for him to be as successful as he was on the battlefield was his ability to inspire his soldiers and the manner in which he refused to put himself before them. One story, written by the Roman author Quintus Curtius Rufus describes how Alexander refused water from his men while crossing the Bactrian desert. “At this point he was met by two of the men who had gone ahead to select a camp-site. They were carrying skins of water to bring relief to their sons who, they knew, were suffering from severe thirst in Alexander’s column. On meeting the king one of them opened a skin, filled a cup he was carrying, and offered it to him. Alexander took it. Then he asked for whom they were carrying the water and learned it was for their sons. He returned the cup, as full as when it was offered to him, saying: ‘I cannot bear to drink alone and it is not possible for me to share so little with everybody. Go quickly and give your sons what you have brought on their account.’” This shows Alexander’s commitment to his men as he would not allow himself a pleasure that all of his men would not receive as well.
Alexander’s soldiers were extremely loyal to him. His ability to inspire them gave them confidence in his leadership and led to a strengthened bond between them. This relationship is evident from an account of Alexander’s death, written by a Greek historian. “This information comes from the Royal Diaries, where we also learn that the soldiers wanted to see him…Many pressed into the room in their grief and longing to see Alexander. They say that he remained speechless as the army filed past him. Yet he welcomed each one of them by a nod with his head or a movement of his eyes.” Alexander’s men grieved his death and were heartbroken to lose their beloved leader who had inspired them to fight with him in his expansion of the Macedonian empire.
All of these examples of Alexander’s exemplary traits are ways in which we as midshipmen should want to lead when we become officers in the fleet. We should take to heart the selflessness and humility of Alexander when he denied the water, knowing that often times, the interests of our subordinates are more important than our own. We should also long to inspire others, as that is the true essence of leadership. It should not be a goal to be mourned by others when we pass but it should be the aim of every officer to motivate and influence those around them. Leadership is learned through experience, even if it is the experience of others.
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