An amazing tale of perseverance, personality, and leadership prowess.

An amazing tale of perseverance, personality, and leadership prowess.
Download podcast “Introduction / Seleucus I Nicator: Bill’s Personal Hero”

Audio Transcript:

00:00 (Entry Music)

00:12 Graeme: Hello, and welcome to Leaders from the Past. This program is a new look at an old approach. Today, I have Adrian “Bill” Phillips; who describes himself as a coach, trainer, and celebrant. He also describes himself as passionate about story telling, history, myth, leadership. He recently jointly published the book; “The War That Was Not” with Professor Roger Openshaw. He loves reading and trout fishing. So, Bill, welcome.

00:41 Adrian: Thank you.

00:42 Graeme: What inspired the idea of exploring Leaders of the Past when you’re looking at leadership?

00:48 Adrian: It’s rather interesting. I had a client call on me and ask if I could help coach him around leadership; and I researched online the current models of leadership, and they seemed to be driven mainly by due process, rather than the greater elements that actually inspire us all to lead. That lead me to looking at a number of codes of leadership, including two specialist codes that I put aside. I went to my customer and said, here’s three models. One was a modern leadership model on corporate leadership, and two others; and he said he preferred the other two and asked me where they were from. I said one was a fourteenth-century code of chivalry from Burgundy; and the other the ninth-century honour code of the Vikings.

01:37 Graeme: Do you have to wear the funny hat with horns as well?

01:40 Adrian: No, fortunately not! What was interesting, though, was that the two latter models were both based on virtues rather than due process; and I liked the image, as did my client, of looking at the higher virtues that create the role of a leader; and that was very inspiring.

02:00 Graeme: Now, I know this is off-script, and you’ll forgive me, but the thought that comes to me is that leadership is actually somehow an inherent characteristic; it is not a set of rules and regulations; there has got to be a core of mana, of quality within the person.

02:26 Adrian: Absolutely; and that’s what I like to explore. In the modern world, leadership is a much wider thing than simply corporate. In fact, the original word, lǣdere, is Old English, and that means somebody in the community who takes responsibility; so it would have been the man in the village that would have helped make a decision on what resources we put aside for famine, or how we drained the fields, or defensive work, or how we got the community together for events.

02:56 Graeme: So, when you look at leaders in the past, what can you learn that is relevant to today’s modern leadership? The example you’ve just used is the man helping arrange livestock and grain etcetera for his medieval village. We’re no longer a medieval village, so how do you bring that relevancy forward?

03:19 Adrian: Excellent! I talk about the principles of leadership, so if we took one by way of example, and we talked about a man who decided that he was developing a code of practice within a business, you would be beginning with things like fidelity, loyalty, and trust; so you’d be looking at fidelity, you’d be looking at courage, you’d be looking at various virtues; rather than driving upwards or driving from the bottom to say what do we need in as due process; and the question has to pass the higher levels of integrity, so it’s quite relevant and makes a very good model for planning, because you work down rather than in detail up.

04:01 Graeme: Right. So, who are the characters you are going to dig around with over the next number of programs?

04:07 Adrian: I’ve got more than a dozen. We’ve been inundated with ideas from friends as well, so we’ve looked at Boadicea or Boudica, we’ve looked at Pomeranian Queens, Alfred the Great, Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great came to mind obviously, Napoléon; a wide range of leaders, and each one has their own strengths and characteristics, and what is lovely is then looking down and seeing how they might inspire; so they’re inspirational, but then also look at the problems and issues they faced as leaders, and how they overcame those problems. It also has the advantage for me of being less personal than looking at a modern corporate.

04:55 Graeme: Right. So, inspiration, motivation, passion, drive. What’s the thing that actually invigorates those?

05:12 Adrian: If somebody could give you the answer to that, I’m redundant. I love looking at people’s views, so Dwight Eisenhower said “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”.

05:27 Graeme: Exactly. That’s a brilliant quote, actually.

05:30 Adrian: (Laughs) I love it, because it actually explains the role a leader might have to perform. But then, if you look at Lao Tzu, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say; ‘we did it ourselves’”.

05:47 Graeme: Indeed. Because, if you look at the modern cult of the leader, it’s all “look at me, look at me, look what I’ve done”; whereas a true leader steps back.

06:01 Adrian: They’re redundant. A perfect manager is actually spending more time, in my view; being creative, inspirational, and motivational; and less time hands on.

06:11 Graeme: Okay! So, who are we going to kick around today; and I don’t mean that in the literal sense?

06:16 Adrian: Well, you might do, because he’s well dead! Seleucus I Nicator; do you know who he was?

06:23 Graeme: Yes, I do remember the name from my history lectures, but they were a day or two ago (Laughs); so I will attempt to add in intelligent responses.

06:35 Adrian: Excellent. He was one of the Diadochi (successors) after the death of Alexander the Great. I chose him, because he exemplifies many of the elements of a great leader; he inspired others, he was certainly courageous, a great planner, a great military campaigner, he built many new cities, re-established the silk route, sent explorers to map the Caspian and Indian oceans, and established an empire nearly as great as that of Alexander the Great. He was successful; in terms that he campaigned, and continued to campaign, until his death when he was assassinated at age 77; so he’s an inspiration for the more mature of us who continue to work until an older age.

07:20 Graeme: Right, and in the timesetting; he is 77, he’s quite an older man.

07:25 Adrian: Absolutely!

07:26 Graeme: So, he must have been quite an extraordinary character; so tell me about him, and what quality you think he offers for modern leadership; apart from living a very long life?

07:40 Adrian: Seleucus demonstrates many attributes of a great leader. He himself obviously had great discipline from an early age, he actually served as one of the royal pagers in the king’s court. Seleucus accompanied Alexander the Great to Asia, and within seven years, he is in command of the elite infantry unit, the Shield-bearers Hypaspistai, later known as the Silvershields. His capacity to command at the battle of Hydaspes in 326 BCE; Seleucus led his troops successfully against the war elephants of King Porus in India; for Alexander the Great.

08:21 Graeme: So, how did he come to power, if he was a General under Alexander the Great?

08:29 Adrian: After Alexander’s “death”; Perdiccas became the Regent, and effectively divided the enormous kingdom amongst Macedonian successor generals; Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Peithon, Antipater, Antigonus, Demetrius, and Eumenes.

08:47 Graeme: Great names, huh?

08:48 Adrian: Wonderful names; and some of them are even better, because Antigonus Monophthalmus, Demetrius the Besieger are amongst some of their nicknames. Seleucus was chosen to command the Companion Cavalry; and appointed First of the Court, which was second only to Perdiccas; so he’s obviously of very high regard by his compatriots. Once again, his capacity to inspire trust is apparent; and also a confidence in his military command to be entrusted to both such a prominent position and in command of the elite cavalry. Dissolution of the Generals with Perdiccas led to the first of many rebellions and wars; a revolt in which Seleucus supported the second most powerful of the Generals, Antipater, results in Seleucus preventing a mutiny and subsequently Perdiccas’ defeat. He was awarded the small province of Babylon.

09:44 Graeme: Isn’t that a nice reward?

09:45 Adrian: Absolutely!

09:46 Graeme: Here! Take Babylon, it’s yours!

09:49 Adrian: Well, he wasn’t to hold it very long, unfortunately! This was lost; but he also demonstrates something else at this point, which is impatience. He fled back to Egypt and new opportunities. Later wars saw Seleucus as the Admiral of Ptolemy’s fleet, and during this time he secures Babylon back for himself; and in a series of subsequent conflicts and alliances, Seleucus ultimately establishes an empire stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranian. His ability to reason and seek an intelligent solution to alliances in the short term for long term gain demonstrated that he had some real political savvy. Sun Tzu says “He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious”.

10:40 Graeme: It comes back to that patience thing, doesn’t it?

10:42 Adrian: Yeah, absolutely.

10:43 Graeme: So, what sort of alliance deals did he strike; is he one of these real deal-makers?

10:51 Adrian: Apparently, yes. In India, for example, after a very protractive and inconclusive campaign, he struck an alliance between Chandragupta of the Mauryan Empire; and Seleucus was affirmed this with the marriage of his daughter to either him or his son, that’s to Chandragupta. This opened up a major trade route through the Middle Eastern India and Europe, and strong relationship with the Indian kingdoms. For most of the Seleucid kingdom’s existance, it is interesting too, because the trade-off is for 500 war elephants; which gives him the military capacity to defeat his future enemies of Antigonus, who fell in battle, and Demitrius the Besieger, who escaped to be dealt with later.

11:40 Graeme: So, it’s interesting when you see an elephant as a weapon of mass destruction!

11:45 Adrian: Absolutely! And five hundred of them as well! When you imagine that these animals had barely been seen in combat, they must have been absolutely terrifying, and as much a psychological weapon as they were as a military weapon on the battlefield.

11:58 Graeme: Indeed. So, what was he like as a person? Does history record any of his personality traits?

12:04 Adrian: Yes. One tale I like is around his frustrations of the paper wall that surrounds any leader.

12:12 Graeme: Amen, brother! Preacher!

12:13 Adrian: (Laughs) Absolutely! It’s reported that he complained as a ruler about the number of letters he had to read, and he said “if they but knew the number of letters I had to read, they would not become my crown”. He was a popular leader, and his title during this period was Seleucus Soter (“saviour”). Perhaps this is due to a liberation of the island of Lemnos, where later on a temple was built in his own honour. Lysimachus and Ptolemy had supported Seleucus against Demitrius; and in a final confrontation, I think this is really interesting, Seleucus showed himself in front of his own soldiers, so really made himself vulnerable; removed his helmet, revealing his identity; and Demitrius’ troops started to abandon their leader en-masse; which suggests that there is a real high regard for this king. A testament certainly to his velour, and also perhaps his relationship with Alexander the Great in the past.

13:19 Graeme: I’m going to pick up on the whole frustration of the paper wall. It just shows that things haven’t changed, have they? He’s 300 BC, here we are, 2,400 years later, and we’re still fighting the bureaucrats.

13:37 Adrian: It’s interesting, too, because I think as a manager and a coach with people, is getting this balance in your work to spend enough time to work on the work, and escape the working in the work; and that’s apparent even back two and a half thousand years ago.

13:52 Graeme: Yeah, the frustration he would have had is the same frustration we have today; that the bureaucrat must be satisfied, because until you’ve ticked the boxes, you won’t get the hay for the war elephants.

14:06 Adrian: Absolutely!

14:07 Graeme: Right. So, does he leave us any other legacy?

14:10 Adrian: Absolutely. He tried to attract colonists into Asia, and to do that, he had to establish new cities. Seleucia Pieria, Laodicea in Syria.

14:26 Graeme: Which is going to appear in the New Testament in a few more years time.

14:33 Adrian: Yes, it will be. That’s right.

14:34 Graeme: In the book of Revelation.

14:36 Adrian: Okay, so Laodicea is named after his mother.

14:39 Graeme: Oh, right!

14:41 Adrian: On the coast of Antioch on the Orontes and Apameia in the Orontes River valley. Antioch became the chief seat of government. The new Seleucia was supposed to become his new naval base and a gateway to the Mediterranean. He founded six major cities and more than 30 cities in total during his reign.

15:02 Graeme: Right. So, he was actually a builder as well?

15:06 Adrian: Yes, absolutely. And he was trying to establish, not with success in the end, but he was trying to establish unity of the administrations throughout the whole kingdom.

15:18 Graeme: Right. So, was he trying to colonise his kingdom and mix the peoples together so there is a more homogeneous colony?

15:34 Adrian: Absolutely.

15:35 Graeme: Which is a very powerful tool; the Babylonians did it, the Syrians did it. It was a very good method.

15:41 Adrian: Yes, Alexander starts it. He started bringing in Nobles into his cavalry, and bringing Asian forces into his own. He wanted a unified people throughout Asia. The kingdom actually goes on to survive until 65 BC; so the Seleucid kingdom lasted for a period of 260 years, which is, if you wanted to compare in modern-day terms, is longer than the British Empire.

16:06 Graeme: Right. So, Seleucus the First; he’s just a few years back on us now, so are those skills still relevant today?

16:20 Adrian: I believe so, because the higher virtues of great leaders can be aspired to. Leadership that’s inspired by higher virtues is supported by process, not driven by process. Like best practice or other methodologies, because leadership is inspirational, so looking at these people and thinking about how they inspire you to build a city, how they inspire you to work together, how you inspire people to collaborate, is really important. You mentioned the unification of Asia under a commonality of language and philosophy. He established, as Alexander did, supported freedom of religion, he supported trying to get cultural acceptance; and when you look at that as a leader, you need to be able to inspire people to do things; and that’s at a higher level than it is to work through with the detailed process.

17:10 Graeme: I heard a really superb affirmation of one of the All Black captains. I can’t remember which one it was now, and this other All Black said; he was so good at inspiring us, if he asked us to kneel down and eat the grass, we would have.

17:33 Adrian: Wonderful. I was just with a colleague shortly before the program, and I was talking with somebody; and we talked about catching people doing things right. And we don’t do enough of this. We talk in our modern world of actually looking at due process and methodology, and we’re constantly looking at that rather than trying to encourage characteristics in individuals to grow individuals. Napoléon Bonaparte, praise is the oxygen of the spirit.

18:00 Graeme: Yes. And yet, I’m not going to name the companies, but I’m aware of several of the big national and multinational companies that operate in New Zealand now have a phone line where you can ring in and dob in your workmates.

18:17 Adrian: You’ve said everything.

18:18 Graeme: Counterproductive.

18:19 Adrian: Absolutely. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a line that said; tell us what our staff did right, we want to repeat the process.

18:26 Graeme: Exactly.

18:27 Adrian: Tell us what you enjoyed about what we’re doing; we want to be better at it. You’ll automatically get people then saying, well, actually you can improve on this. But you’re getting your staff and your organisation to aspire at its best, rather than constantly trying to nitpick and correct the worst.

18:42 Graeme: Right. Now, you’ve been talking about the other methodologies; so how does the leadership style you’re talking about, how does that differ from the process-driven model?

18:57 Adrian: I’m not saying that the process-driven models have no value. What I’m saying is that people’s behaviours are driven by values. My belief that a virtue is a driver for leadership; it’s easier to understand and more likely to be followed. If I put my hand out to you and say, I believe in truthfulness; we both understand what I mean.

19:21 Graeme: Exactly.

19:22 Adrian: The detail comes under that; how does that form in contract. But the truth is, if you’re working with integrity, we understand what that means.

19:29 Graeme: Right.

19:30 Adrian: So it’s the higher values, if you’re talking in broad terms of accountability. Underneath that, the detail follows; so we would use that for example in terms of what we might do on a complaints process, or procedural matters. But the higher virtue is we’re going to work with honesty. And if that is your value, then that defines what sits beneath it.

19:52 Graeme: This is the sort of issue that has actually been discussed in a different context the other day, about one of our former Prime Ministers. And the people in the room who knew him personally said, his word was his bond. If he shook your hand, that was what happened.

20:12 Adrian: Very interesting. My previous discussion less than an hour ago was about fidelity, and we talked about fiduciary care in the financial services and banking industries. And the term “my word is my bond” comes from that tradition of what fiduciary care was within the banking industry. In other words, if I come to an agreement with you, that is the overruling element of the contract. The paperwork underneath supports it.

20:39 Graeme: Yes, that’s right. But it’s that human integrity; it’s the only word, isn’t it? So, where’s all this leading you to?

20:51 Adrian: What I’ve done, is I’m developing a series of workshops based upon the virtues that we came up with for my client; and my thanks to my client, because he actually drove this, and it’s been very exciting; and we’ve been developing a framework to run a series of workshops looking at each of the nine principles of leadership, and then working downwards with that and the integration of your leadership roles; bearing in mind leadership is, these groups have been quite fun, because we’ve got really diverse groups, so I’ve had everything from sole business practitioners through to corporate management, who are interested in developing the same procedures and processes.

21:32 Graeme: Right, so how is that going to tie into Coast Access Radio?

21:37 Adrian: What we’re going to do is run an Introduction to Leadership Workshop, exploring the process that we’ve been discussing on radio. This will be held at the Baptist Community Church in Kapiti. Those interested are welcome to make contact with us, and we will confirm the dates in due course.

21:58 Graeme: Excellent. And we’ll get some really good radio programmes based around what leadership means; based on different people right throughout history.

22:08 Adrian: Correct.

22:09 Graeme: Excellent. Well, you’ve just been listening to the first program, which we’re going to call “Leaders from the Past: A New Look at an Old Approach”; with Bill Phillips and myself Graeme Joyes. Listen again soon.

22:21 (Exit Music)

22:33 Graeme: This program was made with assistance from New Zealand on Air, for radio broadcast and Access Internet Radio. Thanks, New Zealand on Air!