Elon Musk, Alexander the Great & Other Great Leaders

Alexander the Great

It’s no secret that Covid-19 has turned the average person’s life upside down. Mine is no exception. My July has been rife with problems of every genre. The highlight, however, has been the leadership class I’ve been teaching at UC Berkeley in their Certificate Program.

Elon Musk

When I committed to teaching this class last January I began studying great leaders from Alexander the Great to Elon Musk. It’s been more than interesting to be given a professional assignment that gave me an excuse to devote my time to peering through history to contemplate what makes a leader great.

Alexander spread Greek culture to his conquests at the time this encompassed every aspect of civilization from literature to philosophy, science, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, law and medicine. Therefore improving the lands and lives of those he governed greatly.

The life of Elon Musk was formed after an incident where he was bullied and severely beaten. The beating was so brutal he spent two weeks in the hospital. After that he read five hours per day proving once again that knowledge is power. After making his fortune in tech and with Tesla he founded his space exploration company because it was his way to “most affect the future of humanity and civilization.”

In the beginning, I looked for the commonalities of great leaders and what were their most important traits? Was charisma more important than vision? What makes one leader stand out among the rest? Determination, hard work, intelligence? The answer is a spectrum of personal qualities, the period of history, and heredity. But, even this doesn’t tell the full story. I studied leaders spanning thousands of years searching for answers.

What made Steve Jobs and Bill Gates great leaders? In what way did these did these two differ as they built the tech industry from its infancy?

I retrieved my copy of Machiavelli, and dusted it off. I read his timeless words written 500 years ago. His work, though brilliant is only a formula for control. He was a great tactician, but he was only an advisor not a great leader himself. On my last trip to Italy I took a spin around the Ufitzi Museum in Florence home of the great de Medici family. It was clear their reign throughout the Renaissance was due to their patronage of the arts and humanism, and of course their ruthless human resource management practices from the advise of Machiavelli.

Fast forward to today. Recently, I’ve asked modern leaders to join our class discussions on Zoom to talk about their careers and experiences as leaders.

Last week, Sue Douglas who joined Dell Computer early on talked about team work. She had her own formula for success in closing some of the biggest deals in tech history: cultivate a strong work ethic, operate with integrity, be a team player not some of the time but all the time, be willing to give a little and ask people what they need. And, most importantly if you don’t get knocked down you’re not trying hard enough.

This week Craig Nomura Zoomed in to discuss his career and what he had learned running big business for Levi, Gap, and William Sonoma in multicultural environments over seas. Craig has worked in Australia, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and beyond. He said don’t confuse Japan with China there is no correlation. As a leader he advised a focus on three initiatives or you will incite chaos in your organization. Then, choose three guiding factors and use them as a filter in decision making. And, above all don’t compromise your values and ideals.

All great advice.

The summer term is not quite over, but after six months of preparation, 18 hours of class discussions and 1,500 + pages of reading I’ve discovered that leadership can be distilled into one word.


It’s as simple as that.

Love and blessings to all.

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