Eight Virtues of Gladiator Leadership
By: Gregory P. Smith
Greg Smith's cutting-edge keynotes, consulting, and training programs have helped businesses reduce turnover, increase sales, hire superior people, and deliver better customer service. As President and founder of Chart Your Course International, He has implemented professional development programs for thousands of organizations globally. Greg has authored eight informative books including Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Transforming Your Workforce from High Turnover to High Retention and 401 Proven Ways to Retain Your Best Employees. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia. For more information, visit www.ChartCourse.com or call (770) 860-9464.
Remember the heart-pounding, soul-stirring message of last year’s critically
acclaimed movie Gladiator? Remember how Maximus, the Russell Crowe character,
rallied his men around him and led them to victory, even in the face of
almost certain defeat? Remember his “envision the goal” technique for getting
through the horrors of battle? Now, consider the leadership in your own
company. Any gladiators in the ranks? Are you a gladiator?
The time is right for a more heroic style of leadership. Desperate times
lend themselves to the rise of gladiators. Instead of seeing today’s economy
as a negative, executives should view it as an opportunity in disguise--a
chance to position your organization for the inevitable economic upswing.
Here are eight virtues of Gladiator Leadership.
- Gladiators have a mission for which they feel real passion. Call it a purpose, an obsession, a calling: whatever the terminology,
good leaders have a defining mission in their life. This mission, above
all other traits, separates managers from leaders. In Gladiator, Maximus
lived for the mission of killing the evil usurper Commodus and restoring
Rome to the values that made her great.
- Gladiators create a vision. Having and communicating a clear picture of a future goal will lead to
its achievement. Dare to think great! Maximus helped his fellow gladiators
see that they could overthrow their enemies and survive the horror of the
battles they were forced to participate in. In business, a leader may create
an “enemy”the economy, the competition, inefficiency-to challenge the energies
of his or her people and give them something to fight for.
- Gladiators lead from the front-they don’t dictate from the back. In the movie, both when Maximus was a general and a gladiator, he fought
up front where the firestorm was heaviest. So does a good business leader.
Working “in the trenches” shows that you’re not afraid to get your hands
dirty, it helps you fully understand the issues your “soldiers” are facing,
and inspires loyalty in your troops.
- Gladiators know there is strength in teams. Where would Maximus have been if he hadn’t trusted his men to fight with
him and cover his back? Likewise, where would you be without your employees?
While the gladiator leader has the skills to draw people together, he doesn’t
hog the spotlight. He has care and compassion for his team and wants every
member to be recognized for his or her efforts. This is especially important
in a time when the old style “command and control” structure is waning.
Younger workers (Generations X and Y) tend to be loyal to their coworkers
rather than the traditional “organization.”
- Gladiators encourage risk-taking. In the Roman Empire, gladiators were expected to die with honor. Refusing
to lie down and let one’s opponents win was bucking the status quo. (And
certainly, killing the reigning emperor-however corrupt-simply was not
done!) If a company does not examine its way of doing things, if it does
not push out its boundaries, if it never makes mistakes, it may become
- Gladiators keep their heads in a crisis. Maximus had to think on his feet and refuse to give into terror and panic.
He faced the most formidable foes calmly and with focus. Business leaders
must do the same. They must take a position and defend it when things go
awry. Being graceful and brave under fire is the surest way to build credibility-a
necessity for sound leadership. Gladiators don’t retreat due to the slowing
economy, but look for the opportunity under their feet.
- Gladiators prepare for battle 24 hours a day. Essentially, a Roman gladiator was a fighting machine. To stay alive, his
mind had to be constantly on the upcoming battle. Business leaders, likewise,
must be obsessed with training and developing their people in good times
and bad. People need and want to hone their individual skills and “sharpen
their swords.” Furthermore, good leaders must constantly learn what’s necessary
to survive and unlearn the “old rules.” Just because a management style
worked a decade ago does not mean it will work in today’s economy-good
leaders evolve with the times.
- Gladiators are teachers and mentors. Maximus taught his men the lessons they would need to survive in their
new role as gladiators. In today’s rapidly changing environment, leaders
must also teach and train those who may soon replace them. We are not necessarily
talking about formal classroom training. We need leaders talking to people
in the hallway, in the restaurant . . . everywhere. Everyone should be