Hannibal & Alexander - Students of History First

 Both Hannibal and Alexander studied great leaders that preceded them. It is therefore not surprising how similar their early careers were.

Both Hannibal and Alexander studied great leaders that preceded them. It is therefore not surprising how similar their early careers were.

Few people realize that Hannibal Barca, the general from Carthage who proved to be a thorn in the side of the mighty Romans for 38 years, was also an astute student. In a previous article, I explained that he spoke several languages. This helped him lead large armies of mercenaries and auxiliary troops on foreign soil. But this is only part of the story.

Hannibal was also a student of history, and of great leaders who came before him, such as his own father, hero of the first Punic war. He was also a student of Alexander the Great, whom he learned about from learned Greek tutors that his father had hired for him. Interestingly, Alexander was also a student of history by virtue of his father and the tutors assigned to him, most famously Aristotle.

It is actually striking how similar the start of their careers was: both had strong father figures who fostered a love of learning through careful tutelage. Both their fathers also died well before either young man was truly battle-tested, yet both men rose to the occasion when they needed to. They relied on their education and training to become such great military and political geniuses that they are still studied in colleges and military schools to this day. Could there be a connection between a study of history and success in leadership?

Unequivocally, yes.

I realize that for many people today the study of history is like eating kale salad. It’s very good for you, but it takes a lot of dressing to make it go down without hurling. I get it. Perhaps it was one too many bad teachers who forced a bunch of dates and rote memorization down. Or perhaps it just wasn’t relevant enough for today? Well, let this lesson first learned more than 2000 years ago by two of the most studied military leaders of antiquity change your mind.

Let me start by offering some Hollywood-style blood & guts arguments to make the case for studying history. Learning about Hannibal and Alexander is like a non-stop action movie. These two spent the majority of their lives fighting, warmongering, and viciously killing folks. Oh yes, there are healthy doses of human sacrifices, hacking & slashing on the battlefield, executions, and pretty much the most spine chilling acts to read about in their stories....

OK, that didn’t inspire you? Do you need something more cerebral? OK, how about carefully crafted strategies, maneuvers, and covert spy operations? Yes, there is plenty of that too. While you may not be able to hack & slash your way to success around water cooler at work, learning how they out-smarted their enemies both on & off the battlefield is bound to come in handy around the office. Yes, it will also give you an edge against those pesky IT folks next April fools day, I promise.

I also realize that reading history books can be dry work. I love it, but it’s not for everyone, I know. You could check out a few movies, but Hollywood is more about selling tickets than teaching history – they will weave magical creatures, nuclear-level explosions, and hero-saves-the-whole-world scenarios into any story. Yes, you could also binge watch BBC and the History Channel…, ….. OK, we’ll continue when you wake up.

Fortunately, there is another way to get most of a history lesson in a real page-turner without sacrificing too much, and that is with well researched biographies and historical fiction. As a matter of fact, I have recommended Hannibal: The Novel, by Ross Leckie to coaches, business people, leaders, students, and co-workers and no one has ever come back and said it wasn’t worth their time. I now keep several copies with me in my office (email, me if you would like a copy). It’s a short book but it hits all the check-marks.

So start reading some history. And trust me, it is more enjoyable than kale salad, no matter what dressing you lubricate it with.

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.
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