Leadership in Children’s Books about Classical History and Myth (Part 2) by Katerina Volioti

This blog post, of which this is the second 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 OMC 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 the first part, I introduced the books about the Classical past and my argument about connective leadership. In this second part, I 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 2: Management Today: Models from Greek Myth

In the first part of this blog, I noted that Philippos Mandilaras’ and Natalia Kapatsoulia’s books about the Classical past present connecting leaders that care for others and encourage teamwork. Here I discuss leadership in large corporations.

Leadership is a quality that is highly valued in corporate management. Companies hire university graduates and experienced hires usually when they restructure from a barrel-shaped structure to a pyramid structure (Fig. 1). A barrel structure has too much weight in the middle: in business this means too many middle managers. They need to go because they are expensive. From a financial perspective a pyramid is good: it is wide at the bottom, with newcomers who are not as expensive.

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Fig. 1: From Barrel to Pyramid. Sketch Drawing by Katerina Volioti.

The barrel and the pyramid also describe how the top relates to the bottom. In the barrel, the middle management acts as a buffer zone. New hires do not communicate with the top. In the pyramid, smart university graduates with leadership qualities attract attention from top managers. If the graduates are good with words, as are many who have degrees in Classics, they are cherry picked by the board. Top managers want fewer managers and more leaders. They want leaders who stay always positive and find a way out of a crisis. But what exactly is leadership?

Leadership is the ability to make a difference to the organization and move things forward. Are leaders born or trained? We might address this matter by thinking about personality types. Three basic categories of personality types are tough battlers, logical thinkers, and friendly helpers.[1] Employers try to recruit individuals with each of these personality types when they put together project teams.

Tough battlers always find a way forward. They are the born leaders and usually the project managers. Logical thinkers think carefully and in a structured manner and therefore help tough battlers with decisions. Friendly helpers support tough battlers and logical thinkers. They appear to be the weakest list, as they tend to be remunerated and promoted less. Actually, friendly helpers are the strongest links because they hold teams and projects together.

In his influential book Gods of Management. How They Work and Why They Will Fail, first published in 1978,[2] social philosopher and management thinker Charles Handy used the gods – Zeus, Apollo, Athena and Dionysos – as metaphors for four types of organizations, each of which encourages different leadership styles.

Zeus is a top-down organization (Fig. 2). People relate to the charismatic leader at the top through emotions, flattery, and loyalty. You need to get into the leader’s mind to succeed.

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Fig. 2: Marble head of a god, probably Zeus, Greek, 3rd or 2nd century BC. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 26.60.46 [source].

Apollo is an organization based on roles: everyone has a sense of duty (Fig. 3). Each person is an expert in their field, driven by their role.

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Fig. 3: Marble head of Apollo, Roman (ca. 27 BC–AD 68). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 59.77. Public Domain [source].

Athena is a project-based organization, for which teamwork is particularly important (Fig. 4). Different experts come together to voice their ideas. They are driven by the project.

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Fig. 4: Marble head and torso of Athena, Roman, 1st–2nd century AD. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 24.97.15. Public Domain [source].

Dionysos is an organization that needs the artistic genius (Fig. 5). Such creative individuals work well on their own, but not in teams.

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Fig. 5: Greek or Roman terracotta head of Dionysos, 1st century BC. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 08.258.34 [source].

As I see it, Handy’s model captures the importance of connective leadership and friendly helpers within Apollo and Athena organizational cultures. These two cultures give more space to women, who are valued for their professional expertise and for contributing to teamwork. And it is these two cultures that are emphasized in Mandilaras’ and Kapatsoulia’s books.

In The Twelve Gods of Olympus, there is a clear-cut division of roles between the different Olympians, as with an Apollo culture. Zeus is far from authoritarian. He is caring and rescues his siblings from Cronus’ stomach. As they emerge from the stomach they seem to make a team with their diverse personalities. Yet Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades reach consensus in dividing the world. They are working on the same project, as in an Athena culture.

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Fig. 6: Το ταξίδι του Οδυσσέα [“Odysseus Journey”], from the series Greek Mythology. ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source].

In Odysseus’ Journey, Odysseus cares for his team (Fig. 6). He kills Polyphemos and forces Kirke to turn his comrades from pigs back to men. He is a tough battler, a logical thinker, and a friendly helper: a leader who stays always positive. In the end, his comrades do not listen to him, yet with fatal consequences. The book may communicate a warning. A leader cannot lead if the team is not on board: connective leadership is required.

In the next and final part of this blog, I analyse more books about Greek gods, heroes and historical figures. I argue that these mythic and historic leaders appear to operate mostly within Handy’s Athena context. This allows them to act with consideration for others and to lead through teamwork.


[1] See Maureen Guirdham, Interpersonal Skills at Work, New York and London: Prentice Hall, 1990.

[2] Charles Handy, Gods of Management. How They Work and Why They Will Fail, London: Souvenir, 1978.

Post by Katerina Volioti, placed by Olga Strycharczyk in coll. with Dorota Rejter.

You can read her other posts here.

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