Xenophon's Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War

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Overview

Twenty-five hundred years ago Cyrus, a great Persian leader of wisdom and virtue, created the Persian Empire, conquered Babylon, freed forty thousand Jews from captivity, wrote mankind's first human rights charter, and ruled over those he had defeated with respect and benevolence.

The Iranians came to regard Cyrus as "The Father," the Babylonians as "The Liberator," and the Jews as "The Anointed of the Lord." The Greeks called him "The Law Giver," and a century after Cyrus's ...

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Xenophon's Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War

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Overview

Twenty-five hundred years ago Cyrus, a great Persian leader of wisdom and virtue, created the Persian Empire, conquered Babylon, freed forty thousand Jews from captivity, wrote mankind's first human rights charter, and ruled over those he had defeated with respect and benevolence.

The Iranians came to regard Cyrus as "The Father," the Babylonians as "The Liberator," and the Jews as "The Anointed of the Lord." The Greeks called him "The Law Giver," and a century after Cyrus's death, an admiring Xenophon of Athens wrote an epic account of Cyrus's many leadership principles at war and at peace.

By freshening the voice and style that Xenophon ascribed to Cyrus, Larry Hedrick has fashioned a more intimate Cyrus. A new generation of readers, including executives, managers, and military officers, can now learn from Cyrus's leaderships and wisdom in Xenophon's narrative.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Xenophone's Cyrus—the earliest book on the subject—is still the best book on leadership."—Peter F. Drucker
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312355319
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/2/2006
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.71 (w) x 8.45 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Larry Hedrick, a former Air Force officer, is a military historian who lives in Seattle. The study of Xenophon of Athens has been one of his lifelong passions.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Boldness at the Beginning

You will, I believe, recognize me as a legendary leader from the deep past, for I am Cyrus the Great of Persia. In antiquity I was famed throughout the world as a man who won sovereignty over vast territories and scores of great cities. My achievements were so unexpected that many people thought of me as a god. I am now going to tell you how I created my empire, so that you can learn from my thoughts and my deeds.

What really distinguished me was a clear and calculating—yet always benevolent—mind. I was the product of a strict warrior culture, and I learned early on to suppress my emotions and respond to danger with great composure. I was never the plaything of fear or greed. Though I had the advantage of royal birth, it was through my own efforts that I reordered the world as I wished it to be, and I conquered far more by the force of my mental powers than by the strength of my sinews.

Serve as a Moral Compass

You cannot expect your wealth to last for a lifetime unless it's preserved by ethical principles. Whether in industry or in politics, leaders should be building a new, more flexible order for the imperiled generations to come.

To recognize this situation is not to call for a less calculated kind of leadership: It is always the cunning, not the naïve, who rise to power, and leaders must use artfulness to make any organization whatsoever work well. Yet they must never be guided by cynical and self-serving counsels. If they don't call upon their higher selves, they will descend further into petty egotism and tyrannical behavior.

As I teach you to use the set of techniques that I invented for making human beings perform superhuman tasks, you must never forget that my long journey to transfigure the world was as much inward as outward. More than the tale of my material success, this is the story of my soul's high adventure.

How was I trained to achieve such excellence in the art of leadership? My father, always the best of my teachers, was Cambyses, king of the Persians before me. It was he who first inspired me to love humanity, wisdom, and courage. He taught me to endure all labors and undergo all dangers for the sake of heroic achievement. As I grew up, I avoided shameful conduct. Even in my youth, I brought sorrow to no one, for my constant care was to secure the well-being of all around me.

Several years of my early life were spent in Media, the homeland of my mother Myndane. When I came back to Persia, I spent one more year as a boy among boys. At first the other noble lads taunted me, thinking that I must have learned lazy, luxurious ways in affluent Media. After a time they saw that I was as satisfied with simple Persian fare as they themselves were. My self-control caused the tide to turn in my favor, and the lads started to sing my praises. When it was time for me to join the younger men, I outdid all my fellows in enduring hardship, in paying due respect to authority, and in revering the elderly. It was what my father the king required of me.

To my chagrin, the years of my young life passed away quickly and with little incident. I constantly drilled and hunted with my comrades, but my entire military career consisted of skirmishes on our borders with tribal warriors of little distinction. Since I had the leisure for much study, I took advantage of every opportunity to question merchants from distant lands about the civilizations that lay beyond our Persian horizons.

Absorb as Much Knowledge as Possible

All the learned men at my father's court came to expect my visits. Lending me their best books, they called me the "Well of Knowledge," for I strove to understand all history and everything I could about the world. On the basis of what I learned, I began to daydream about winning a universal empire, for there was something in me that would not rest until I fulfilled a grand destiny. Thus I created an empire in my thoughts long before I began to win an empire in reality.

When I was nearing my thirty-fourth birthday, King Astyages died in Media and his son Syazarees, who was my uncle, inherited the crown. At this juncture Syazarees's great enemy, the king of Assyria, had subdued all the tribes of Syria, Babylonia, Arabia, and Hyrcania. Congratulating himself on his successes, the Assyrian king calculated that, if he could only weaken the Medes, it would be easy for him to extend his empire over all the nations around him—including Persia.

Accordingly, the royal Assyrian sent messengers to every part of his dominions. He ordered them to spread slanders against us Persians and our allies the Medes. Their mission was to remind the world that our two great kingdoms had sealed our ties by marriage and had thereby produced, in my own person, a pretender to the throne of a new empire.

The Assyrian messengers issued warning after warning. If no one checked our rising power soon, they said, we Persians and Medes would fall on each of our neighbors in turn and enslave them one by one, giving a death thrust to freedom. The nations listened to this highly charged propaganda and joined their fates to the Assyrian king's. Those who weren't persuaded by the king's arguments were won over by gifts of gold, for the riches of Assyria were very great.

When I heard of all these things I was puzzled. Why were the Assyrians pointing at me and not at my father the king? Could they have somehow read my thoughts? Perhaps their attacks on my character meant that the hour was ripe for my career to begin in earnest.

Seize the Unexpected Opportunity

In Media, my uncle Syazarees was fully aware of the Assyrian plots and preparations. He sent word to the Persian supreme council and to my father, Cambyses the king. Much to my gratification, Syazarees also appealed directly to me. He begged that I come with all speed at the head of any force that might be provided.

Since fortune had never afforded me the opportunity to display the full extent of my powers, I jumped at the chance to help Uncle Syazarees, whom I remembered well—though not with tremendous affection—from my early years in Media.

With the encouragement of my father, the supreme council appointed me to command an expeditionary force to Media. The council instructed me to choose two hundred men from among the peers, each of whom was ordered to enlist four other noblemen.

Thus a body of a thousand nobles was formed, and each of the thousand had orders to raise thirty commoners—ten javelin throwers, ten slingers, and ten archers. Three regiments were levied from the commons—ten thousand archers, ten thousand slingers, and ten thousand javelin throwers, over and above the thousand officers. A large number, you might say. In different circumstances it might have been but, considering the colossal task that I had in mind, I was starting with barely a handful of men at my command.

As soon as my appointment was confirmed, I offered sacrifices to the gods and, above all, to the Father God. When the omens were favorable, I called all my officers together and addressed them for the first time as their commander.

"My friends," I began, "I wish to tell you plainly why I've accepted this office and why I'm asking for your help. I also want to talk to you about our place in the history of our country."

My nerves were quiet, but I was intensely aware that the mightiest of the Persian warriors were hanging on my every word. I paused before continuing in a strong and steady voice. "Let us remember our forefathers," I cried out, "but let us no longer exaggerate their virtues."

Inspire Your People with an Enticing Vision of a New Order

These words of mine instantly caused a stir, since convention demands that we idealize the heroes of old. I was quick to support my own point.

"Let me teach you a new way of seeing yourselves in the great scheme of things. We should no longer feel inferior to the men who went before us. Their lives were one long struggle to perform the same deeds that we hold in honor now. Yet, for all their worth, they made few gains for the nation or for themselves. In fact, their enemies seemed to prosper as much as they did. Our forefathers may have displayed wonderful courage, but they failed to reap great rewards."

Placing my hand on the hilt of my sword, I continued, "I've come before you to predict that our own fate will be far different—and far better. It's not our destiny to fight ceaselessly for small gains. We're going to win both honor and wealth for Persia and for ourselves, and we're going to do it quickly."

Though they had never heard a Persian prince speak in such openly ambitious terms, the officers quickly warmed to my words. As they started to whisper eagerly among themselves, I paused, wanting to tell them about my own overwhelming sense of destiny, wanting to prophesy about the new world that I was now setting into motion.

Know When to Keep Your Own Counsel

I checked myself, however, feeling it unwise to announce the beginning of a campaign of unprecedented scope. In the coming months I would force myself again and again to guard against my own overeagerness. Such self-control was crucial, for many times it led to great victories when self-indulgence might have led to defeats.

The full extent of my plans would gradually be unfolded to my officers. To shock them with the whole truth at the beginning would cause too many of them to shy away. It would also lead to accusations that I was working to overthrow our present form of government, and that was the last alarm I wanted to sound.

Raising my hands for silence, I added, "Your upbringing has made you tough and taught you that success can only be won by hard work. You know what true warriors are. True warriors don't falter when they're called upon to perform feats of great endurance. True warriors don't fall asleep when they ought to remain alert. You are the suitors of Honor herself and, under my leadership, you'll meet all the challenges that lie ahead."

After the officers roared in approval, I added, "If you should fail to fulfill my expectations for you, it's on me that the shame will fall, but I have every confidence in you. I trust you to act always in good faith—as I also trust our enemies to make fools of themselves!"

There was a burst of laughter at this last phrase, yet I truly meant it. My study of history had taught me that humanity has always been full of illusions about its own possibilities, and that ambitious leaders have led their people into deep affliction more often than wide empire.

Then I said to my officers, "No one can claim that we're going to war for spoils alone. Our enemy has committed aggression after aggression and our Median allies have called on us to protect them. What's better than helping a nearby people who are bound to us by sacred treaties?"

Always Give Divinity Its Due

In my earthly days I generally thought about Almighty God rather than "the gods"—for I had been initiated into the secret of His essential oneness by a wise tutor in my youth. But since my officers felt safer when I appealed to all the gods, I often kept to the form that suited them best.

Therefore, I now said, "We have still another reason for optimism. In opening this campaign I haven't—and you haven't—forgotten the gods. In all things, great and small, I work to win their blessing. They've received sacrifice after sacrifice from our priests, who have seen nothing but good omens. So let's go forth in the expectation of victory!" The officers roundly cheered, shouting out the names of the gods that they loved and trusted most.

"And now," I finished, "let's be about our business. I leave you to finish your preparations, and I know that you'll soon be marching into Media at the head of your troops. Meanwhile I'll return to my father and go before you to meet our great ally, my uncle Syazarees."

Thus I set out for the war, and my father Cambyses accompanied me over the first many miles of the journey. With a large party of peers and imperial guards following close behind, we were no sooner clear of the city than we met with favorable omens of thunder and lightning. "The gods themselves," my royal father observed, "favor our cause and our power." After that we went forward without further consultation with the priests, for we felt that no man could mistake the benevolence of such signs from above.

"I remember," I said to my father, "how I once heard you say that dealing with gods and dealing with men weren't such different things. A prince, you taught me, should honor both gods and men during his days of good fortune, so that both men and gods will remember him in his time of need."

True Leadership Is Making People All They Ought to Be

"True, my son," said the king, "and do you remember the other things we talked about? We discussed how wonderful it would be if a man could train himself to be both ethical and brave, and to earn all he needed for his household and himself. That kind of man, we agreed, would be appreciated by the whole world. But if a man went further still, if he had the wisdom and the skill to be the guide and governor of other men, supplying all their needs and making them all they ought to be, that would be the greatest thing of all."

"Yes, sire," I answered. "I remember very well. I agreed with you that governing well is the most important task of all, but today when I think of the treacherous cunning of many men who wear crowns—creatures like the king of Assyria—I can only think of how dishonorable it would be to let them remain in power."

I turned to observe my father's face and was relieved to see that he, as usual, remained serene. I felt free to further unburden my heart. "What angers me are all those kings who are fabled for the heaps of gold in their coffers, and their freedom from trouble and pain. I have a different vision. I say that the true leader shuns luxury and ease. Once in power, he should want to work harder than ever."

"You're right, my son, but isn't it a bit too early to talk like that?" Cambyses asked. "Concentrate first on the pursuit of victory, which requires more effort than anything else. You need to make logistics your initial concern. If supplies don't reach your army in good time, your authority will crumble."

Err on the Side of Self-Reliance

"Yes," I answered, "and that is why my uncle Syazarees has promised to feed all of us who join him."

"Do you really mean," asked my father, "that you're relying only on the supplies of Syazarees for this campaign of yours?"

"Well, yes," I answered with hesitation. "At least in the beginning."

"Do you know how substantial his supplies are?"

"No," I confessed, "I don't know the details, but Syazarees assures me there's plenty for us all."

"So you're prepared to rely on what you can't guarantee? Then you don't seem ready for all the problems that your army might face."

"I have faith in my ability to improvise," I quietly said.

"But," insisted my father, "suppose Syazarees actually means to deceive you—how would your soldiers fare then?"

I didn't hesitate to embrace the suggestion that Syazarees might turn out to be an unreliable ally. "If Syazarees breaks his word to us, my army won't fall apart. We'll mobilize and find resources on our own."

"Good," said the king. "The supreme council and I have given you a superbly trained force of infantry that I wouldn't trade for any other, not even one that's twice as big. If we can trust Syazarees, you'll have the cavalry of Media to support you, which may be the finest in the world. With such power at your command, the territories you cross will be eager to resupply you. Still, you must always plan ahead, so that you'll always have some means of keeping your army well supplied."

"You can be sure that I'll follow your advice, Father," I vowed.

"Excellent! And remember: Never be slow in replenishing your supplies. You'll always be on better terms with your allies if you can secure your own provisions, and you'll increase the loyalty of your soldiers. Give them all they need, and your troops will follow you to the ends of the earth."

"Yes, Father," I said, tempted to add that the ends of the earth were exactly where I proposed to take them. Yet, though I trusted my father entirely, I wanted to provoke no sermon on the dangers of ambition. Why, at any rate, should he think me capable of great conquests, given my limited experience in the field? Early on, you can expect no one to believe in your destiny as much as yourself.

Copyright © 2006 by Larry Hedrick

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2014

    War Games

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2006

    Lessons in Ethical Leadership from an Epic Tale of Success

    As the editor of ¿Xenophon¿s Cyrus the Great,¿ I¿d like to take this opportunity to tell you a little more about my version of this amazing ancient classic. The foremost management guru of recent times, Peter F. Drucker, read my manuscript before it was published, and he wrote this endorsement for use on its dust jacket: ¿¿Xenophon¿s Cyrus,¿ the first book on the subject, is still the best book on leadership.¿ Here¿s just a touch of background: Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire, was an enlightened monarch who flourished 2,500 years ago. A century later, Xenophon of Athens so admired Cyrus' methods that he preserved them in history's first full-fledged treatment of wise and heroic leadership. This book presents its leadership lessons in the context of an epic story--the story of a vast power struggle. In narrating the events of Cyrus¿ life, Xenophon shows you, the reader, how to conduct meetings, become an expert negotiator, deal efficiently with allies, communicate by appealing to the self-interest of your followers, encourage the highest standards of performance, insure that your organization has the benefit of specialists, and prove that your words will be backed by your deeds. In recounting the achievements of Cyrus the Great, Xenophon wanted above all to provide lessons in ethical leadership, for he was convinced that honest, moral leaders succeed far more often than corrupt and evasive types. The result was a captivating leadership classic with unique qualities--a classic that's distinguished both by its suspenseful story line and the priceless advice that it offers to today¿s business professionals and leaders in all walks of life.

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