The fundamental elements of leadership began in Ancient Greece, and the two events we studied this week exemplify two very unique, but equally important aspects of leadership. First of all, in Plato's “Allegory of the Cave,” there are a number of important leadership qualities exemplified by the author. As we saw last unit, Socrates (and his student, Plato) were products of the Democratic city-state of Athens in ancient Greece in the years (roughly) 440-399 BCE. As citizens of the world's first democracy, they lived in an environment that promoted discussion of who would make the best leader (because each citizen had a right to vote for leaders, it was only natural to discuss what characteristics that person should have. Conversely, in a dictatorship, its not really as necessary to talk about the virtues of a potential leader. Pretty much the guy with the best army is going to end all that discussion.)
As seen in the picture below, the cave consists of three parts. The average citizens of a society are represented by the individuals in chains, staring at the wall. The shadows projected by the people walking in front of the fire are the reality for the average citizens. Only by escaping the cave and entering the “light” of knowledge will the average citizen escape the false reality that exists in the cave.
So where does leadership come in? Its simple: a true leader has two abilities: (1.) the ability to escape the false reality of the cave and enter enlightenment, and (2.) the ability to return to the cave and convince the average person to join him or her outside of the cave and into knowledge. Of course, this is easier said than done, as confronting the average person with the fact that everything they have ever known is a lie might make them, ummm....not so happy. They'll probably think that leader is crazy, and if he/she persists, the group will probably kill him/her. Thus, the effective leader knows how to speak to the average person in a way that convinces them that this leader is doing things in their best interests. This is known as developing empathy. In other words, the leader understands the needs of the people, and instead of talking down to them, explains the reasons why his choice of actions will be better for everyone. This, of course, is a huge risk for the potential leader. But, according to Socrates, leadership cannot happen unless you have the willingness to accept the risk that comes with the responsibilities of leading a group of people.
A leader is both intelligent and charismatic-he knows what's best and can convince the average person that he's right. That's why Socrates referred to this theoretical person as the “Philosopher King”.
Does this kind of person exist? Socrates said he hadn't seen anyone ever earn the title “Philosopher King.” Furthermore, can this type of person ever exist? Or will we (comfortable looking at our own “shadows”) destroy anyone who ever attempts to lead in this fashion?