‘I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.‘ – Alexander the Great
Alexander The Great
Born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne when twenty. He spent most of his ruling years on military campaigns through Asia and northeast Africa, and he created one of the largest empires of the ancient world by the age of thirty, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is considered one of this planets successful military commanders.
Alexander was tutored by Aristotle until age 16. After Philip’s assassination in 336 BC, he succeeded his father to the throne and inherited a strong kingdom and an experienced army.
‘I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.‘ – Alexander the Great
Alexander used this authority to lead the Greeks in the conquest of Persia. In 334 BC, he invaded the Achaemenid Empire (Persian Empire) and began campaigns that lasted some ten years. After the conquest of Anatolia (Turkey), Alexander broke the power of Persia in a series of battles, notably Issus and Gaugamela.
Alexander overthrew King Darius III of Persia and conquered the Achaemenid Empire. His empire stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River.
He remains the measure against which military leaders compare themselves, and military academies throughout this planet teach his tactics. He is one of the most influential people in history.
Using older tactics
Alexander used and looked at ways of improving on previous techniques that were taught him. Take for example The Phalanx.
Alexander’s father, Philip II, developed the phalanx, a box formation for infantry soldiers from 8 to 36 men deep.
‘The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.‘ – Aristotle
The men in the front carried spears of about four to six meters (12 to 18 feet), usually held in an upright position. When held vertically, the wall of spears hid what was going on with the units behind. When held horizontally, enemies could be killed at a safe range from the formation.
The phalanx was revolutionary for its time. This was only surpassed when the Romans developed the legion, another infantry formation with different weapons and armour which I will go through in another article. Meanwhile Alexander used this to full effect in his campaigns.
Tactics & Strategy
Alexander organised his units for complex maneuvers, hiding the numbers of his men from the enemy and managing his army during the flow of the battle. Alexander drilled his men constantly and their morale and discipline was high.
Sun Tzu said that ‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.‘ This is something that worked well for Alexander of Macedon.
‘All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.‘ – Sun Tzu
Tactics means short term moves. Strategy is the overall plan. Tactics win a battle not strategy. But one must have a good strategy to be able to put those tactics into action.
Good strategies only work if the enemy did exactly what you had thought they would. But most of the time this doesn’t happen, and that’s when tactics are played.
‘Victory usually goes to the army who has better trained officers and men.‘ – Sun Tzu
During Alexander’s time many battles were fought with the general watching the battle progress and giving an occasional order from a distant and safe hill. When Alexander wasn’t at the front fighting with his men he was close by watching the battle and executing orders.
A drilled and disciplined soldier, will do what his superior tells him without question and will stand ground with just a spear against a charge of cavalry. In Alexander’s battles in India discipline and training was very important.
Alexander’s men had never seen elephants let alone in battle. And when faced with fighting a man up on top of an elephant – untrained soldiers would likely have run, but Alexander’s troops stood their ground. A good leader leads by example. They were confident in their superiors’ abilities to tell them what to do. They didn’t run.
Soldiers are human beings and they are visual beings and learn through what they see. There’s nothing more inspiring than seeing things achieved before your own eyes. Alexander was seen to be doing great things often in front of his soldiers and with his soldiers and he was always there with his men, fighting alongside with them, in the hot and cold weather eating what they ate. He shared his success with his soldiers and they share theirs with their leader.
Alexander earned loyalty from his troops and generals.
Alexander was hated by other leader because he made them look bad in comparison. Alexander was an effective leader because he was decisive. And if anyone was disloyal they would be executed. He never the let him being the leader place distance between himself and the people he relied on for victory – his men.
‘It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.‘ – Aristotle
If we look at the quality of those who call themselves leaders leaders today – many have very little interaction on the front lines with either employees (businesses), voters (politicians) or other groups. Many of these modern so called leaders find themselves running large teams of people with expertise outside of their current skill sets and then they complain that they are not trusted or taken seriously.
A leader signals confidence and strength alongside humility and compassion. The leader refuses to play political games and is not afraid to take a spear in his torso – how many business or political leaders today can show that?
If you want to be considered a leader then leave your little castle or fort and fight alongside your troops. They may, just may consider you “Great”, so adjust your eyes and hearts – use your minds and be leaders not just wannabe leaders.