I am quite sure you, and everyone you know has heard the name Alexander the Great, one of history’s most celebrated conquerors and military leaders.
A lot can be learned from a man who conquered most of the world by the time he was in his thirties, an age we normally might be at the beginning of our career.
One of the most famous stories, as told by the famous Greek author Plutarch about Alexander, is the taming of a wild horse named Bucephalus. There are some leadership lessons to be learned from this story. The story goes like this
One day Philonicus of Thessaly brought King Philip a shiny black horse, offering him to sell for thirteen talents, a price tag three times the norm of the time, even though the horse was too wild and was rearing up anyone who came near him. No one had been able to ride or tame him.
“Try it before you buy it,” even existed then, so they went into the field to try him out. The black stallion stampeded, bayed, hissed, and foamed at the mouth, scaring the fearless. He appeared very wild and would not allow anyone to mount him. They found him unmanageable. Philip was angry at being offered a useless and unmanageable animal and told Philonicus to take him away.
Alexander sat in the audience with his mother watching the spectacle before him. It was love at first sight for Alexander. He fell in love with the beautiful black stallion the first time he saw it.
Bucephalus was undoubtedly gorgeous. Alexander who was just 12 years old exclaimed “What a magnificent horse they are losing, just because they lack the knowledge of managing him and the courage to handle him”.
Philip at first trying to ignore what he said, kept silent, but, when he overheard him repeating, again and again, he approached the young Alexander and asked him: “Do you think you know more than those who are older and more experienced? Do you think that you are more capable and can manage horses better than them?”
“Yes”, said Alexander. “If given a chance to try, I can manage this horse better than others”
“And what if you cannot”, said Philip, “what price are you prepared to pay for your rashness?”
“I will pay, the price of the horse”, replied curious Alexander.
Alexander approached the horse. He was a keen observer. This trait made him see what others failed to, that the horse was afraid of the motion of his own shadow. Seeing his own shadow was a trigger that distressed the horse.
Maybe the horse was scared of its own shadow, Alexander thought to himself. When he approached him, taking the reins in his hand, he tapped him gently with his hand, spoke very calmingly, and in the process turned his head towards the sun, so that the horse didn’t have to see its own shadow.
Now with the horse calm, without losing on the opportunity he jumped upon its back. With no intention of controlling Alexander allowed the horse to do what he wanted to do. The horse ran as fast as he could, while Alexander neither stroked nor spurred him, but kept his place on the back. Alexander just kept inciting him with a commanding voice as he galloped. Eventually, when the horse was tired and worn out, alexander got control of him and rode back to where his Father King Philip and his friends were present.
He dismounted the horse and everyone present applauded his triumph. His father shedding tears of joy, it’s said kissed him and said: “O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee.”
Historians claim that subduing the wild Bucephalus was a turning point in Alexander’s life, demonstrating the fearlessness, sharp perception, and determination he was to show later in his conquest of Asia and other continents.
Alexander named his prize horse Bucephalus, meaning “ox-head” as his head was as broad as that of a bull. Alexander so loved the animal that Both became the best of companions and almost inseparable. When it was equipped with the royal trappings, it would allow no one, but Alexander to mount it.
Bucephalus finally died after the battle of the Hydaspes of exhaustion and old age in what is now in Pakistan. When Bucephalus died, in 326 B.C., Alexander named a city after the horse: Bucephala. Today the same town is known as Phalia and is in modern Pakistan.
This is precisely what I call the “Bucephalus’ Syndrome.” This does not only apply to horses but very much to human beings. If you are a Leader leading a team, the people you guide and mentor, the people you are in charge of, are your Bucephalus. The fear of his own shadow manifests in different ways in different people. For some of your team members it could be Self-doubt, Procrastination, impulsive behaviors, for others it could be unreasonable fears, self-destructing attitudes, risk-aversion. These become people’s defence barriers which may hold them from becoming great team players.
Taking a leaf from Alexander’s role, one of the most powerful skill any leader should possess is to very artfully learn to turn people’s heads towards the sun to distract them away from their own shadows of Self-Limiting beliefs and to achieve their full potential.
Once you help them to get rid of their shadowy traits, help them overcome their limitations, help them develop skills, they will be ready to help you achieve your vision. Believe me, the payoff is huge. You want your people to trust you and pledge allegiance to your vision, then it will happen only when you free people from their fears and insecurities.
The horse analogy can be a mirror to your Leadership: – horses respond to and behave around us according to whom they see and read you to be. They see beyond who you are on the outside to your real strengths, fears, insecurities and tendencies and treat you accordingly.
So, to become better leaders for the people you work with and develop their genuine trust and respect, you must develop yourselves, including your competence, compassion, confidence, kindness, and respect for both the people and yourselves. How much your team members will want to respect, listen to and follow you will depend on how well you prove yourselves to be worthy of their trust and respect.
Let me know your opinion on “Bucephalus Syndrome” in the comments section below!