Leadership in Children’s Books about Classical History and Myth (Part 1) by Katerina Volioti

This blog post, of which this is the first of three parts, emerges from my talk for the workshop Mythology and Education 2020 at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, on 18 February. This work falls within my research for the Our Mythical Childhood Project. I draw inspiration from my current job as Classical Art Historian at the University of Roehampton, but also from my previous studies at the Saïd Business School and employment in the IT and oil industries. In this first part, I introduce the books about the Classical past and my argument about connective leadership. In the second part, I will discuss leadership styles borrowing models from management, especially those of business guru Charles Handy. In the third part, I will examine more books and how their mythic and historic leaders lead through teamwork.

Acknowledgements

I am hugely grateful, first and foremost, to Professor Amy C. Smith, as well as to Professors Susan Deacy, Nathan Harter, and Katarzyna Marciniak for reading and commenting on earlier versions. My thanks extend to Eirini Dermitzaki of Papadopoulos Publishing for permission to publish images of front covers and of the head offices, as well as to Olga Strycharczyk for putting together the web version so wonderfully.

Part 1: Connective Leadership

A set of illustrated books on ancient Greek myths, recently published in Greece, aim to educate children as young as four about who is who in Classical Antiquity and to prepare them for primary-school education (Fig. 1).

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Fig. 1: The Twelve Gods of Olympus, from the series My First Mythology, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source].

In addition to imparting knowledge of the myths, the books help children develop interpersonal skills, including leadership qualities. They emphasize a particular style of leadership, known as connective leadership,[1] which encourages collaboration and values the unique contributions of each and every member of a team.

All books I discuss here are by Papadopoulos Publishing, an Athens-based house specializing in children’s literature (Fig. 2).

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Fig. 2: Offices of Papadopoulos Publishing. Photograph courtesy of Eirini Dermitzaki, ©Papadopoulos Publishing.

The texts by Philippos Mandilaras, who is a well-known author of children’s and young adults’ books in Greece, are illustrated by Natalia Kapatsoulia, a freelance illustrator of children’s books. I note Kapatsoulia’s vivid colours, open spaces (landscapes and seascapes), and simple human forms that take cues mostly from comics. Mandilaras’ and Kapatsoulia’s books form a best-selling series about the Classical past, and they have been translated into English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian (Fig. 3). The books target an international audience, potentially shaping tomorrow’s global citizens.

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Fig. 3: El viaje de Odiseo [Odysseus Journey], from the series My First Mythology, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source].

We live in a fast-changing world and the new generation will need to solve difficult social, economic, and environmental problems. The Climate Crisis, for example, is a complex global problem, with multiple dimensions, including psychology, science, ecology, politics, and education. As the current coronavirus pandemic has revealed, what is required from the current and future generations is experts in different fields to come together and work effectively as a team.

I find that Mandilaras and Kapatsoulia’s books convey a recent shift in leadership styles, from leaders who act alone to leaders who value collaborative relationships.

A traditional understanding of leadership tends to describe leaders with considerable charisma, perhaps recalling Max Weber’s charismatic leaders who influence the masses and thereby change the world. Such leaders are usually white men in western societies. They are either highly educated or highly ambitious or both. Connective leadership, by contrast, refers to leaders that involve others, including women, in the decision-making process and value diversity as a source of creativity.

In Classical Antiquity we have stereotypes of strong individuals. The Greek gods and heroes are super strong and super mobile, as if they are flying around all the time. Historical figures, such as Leonidas and Pericles, also have strong personalities.

Mandilaras and Kapatsoulia’s books take us beyond such stereotypes of strong personas from the deep past. The books foreground caring and responsible leaders, who listen to others with respect and are good problem-solvers. There is a clear emphasis on connective leadership.

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Fig. 4: Ο Περικλής και ο Χρυσός Αιώνας [Pericles and the Golden Age], from the series My First History, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source].

In Pericles and the Golden Age, Pericles is a connecting leader par excellence (Fig. 4). This may not be because of Pericles’ qualities alone, but also because of the people all around him. Pericles operates within an Athenian context that has multiple teams in place. The city is egalitarian and there are teams of Democrats and Oligarchs. Pericles works with sculptors and architects to rebuild the Acropolis. Pericles consults his wife Aspasia for advice. Apparently, Pericles leads by involving others. Mandilaras concludes that Pericles wanted to be a servant to the people [my translation, «…ο ηγέτης…που του λαού του θέλησε να είναι υπηρέτης», in Greek].

I discuss examples of these mythic and historic “connective leadership” paradigms presented through these books to young kids in the third part of this post. In the next part, however, I consider leaders in the business world, with reference to organizational restructuring, personality types, and Charles Handy’s Gods of Management.

 

[1]  For connective leadership, I draw inspiration from Nathan W. Harter and Sean M. Heuvel, “New Perspectives on Heroic/Post-Heroic Leadership and on Heroic Followership”, International Leadership Journal 12, 2020, pp. 8-25. Available here.

 

Post by Katerina Volioti, placed by Olga Strycharczyk

 

Dr. Katerina Volioti, University of Roehampton, was educated at the Universities of Cambridge (BA in Archaeology & Anthropology), Oxford (MSc in Management), Humboldt (MA in Politics), and Reading (PhD in Classics), and she is a passionate educator. You can read her other posts here.

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