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Mortals And Empires – Timeless Leadership Lessons From History

Lars Friedrich, a seasoned expert in personal and professional leadership development, brings a unique 'Touch of Zen' to his approach. This distinctive method, honed over a proven track record of over three decades, sets him apart in the field and piques his curiosity.

Executive Contributor Lars Friedrich

During crazy and uncertain times, knowledge of and education in the classics of ancient history, philosophy and even myths have proven beneficial.

Business team celebrating success at the office

These gained insights and often timeless lessons are particularly essential in frivolous moments of overly and openly displayed delusions, personal grandeur, and distorted self-awareness in almost all areas of leadership these days!


Therefore, as part of credible and responsible leadership development, it seems crucial to occasionally remind executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs of two major ones that have remained factual for millennia.


Memento mori

"Memento Mori" is a Latin phrase meaning "remember that you will die/ remember you are mortal" and originates from the Greek philosopher Epictetus, ca. 50-135 AD.


It was intended to be a general philosophical reminder of people's mortality and the brevity and fragility of human life!


During the centuries following, advisors to emperors, empresses, kings, queens, and rulers, took this phrase on for thoughtfully supporting the leadership reign of those elected or enthroned to power.


In the Roman Empire, for example, there was even a person whose only job was to hold a laurel wreath over the head of a returning victorious celebrated leader when entering Rome.


And, from time to time, whisper "Memento Mori" simultaneously into their ear while the people along the streets cheered and clapped the victor!


The sole intention of this "whisper" was to prevent the pedestaled leader from losing their sense of proportion in the celebrations' excesses by reminding them of their mortality and humanness.


In other words, as an ancient form of a much-needed reality check for their applauded, cherished, overinflated, victory-drunk egos and the accompanying delusions of superiority and immortality.

Fate of empires

Another example of the benefits of knowledge and education in the areas of classics mentioned above is the prevalent overuse of the word "empire" in today's entrepreneurial and corporate business environments.


Mainly when people colourfully and wordily describe the expansion and growth plans and goals of their businesses, companies, or organisations!


“Empires inevitably fall, and when they do, history judges them for the legacies they leave behind.” – Noah Rama Feldman


But two historical facts about all empires, which as a word is directly related to the root of the Latin imperium/inperium (command, control, dominion, sovereignty), have been constantly proven for millennia:


  • Every empire was built by aggressive expansion and oppression.

  • Every empire was eventually doomed to crumble, fall and disappear.


And there have been no documented exceptions since, which, in defence of those self-declared "empire" builders, is probably unknown to them.


So, its mis- and overuse continues mercilessly flooding social media daily!


The heart-based empire paradox

Undeniably, being put on a figurative and literal pedestal while crowned with a laurel, getting another award or accolade and being applauded by a devoted circle of followers is comfortable and ego-pleasing.


But, as another example, if executives, leaders and entrepreneurs are declaring the building of an empire while proclaiming it to be a "heart-based" one...


Then, instead of adopting fancy-sounding and marketable buzzwords, they should probably first investigate their root and meaning.


Particularly as the connection between the words "empire" and "heart-based" is evidently paradoxical!


“Human, all too human!” Friedrich Nietzsche


But that’s "Human, All Too Human," as 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche titled his book in 1878, where he delved into the complexities of human nature by exploring desires, fears, and illusions with a critical and analytical lens. ¹


And his chosen title is also an unrestrainedly transferrable metaphor for today's corporate and entrepreneurial business environment culture.


History repeating

Obviously, and frequently over-displayed in today's language, the lessons humanity learned the hard way during countless wars and endless suffering over centuries seem to particularly slip the minds of many executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs.


Too often, too quickly!


“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill


It seems that, for individual and personal reasons, we cannot or don't want to learn from our past. Or, even worse, some chose intentional ignorance instead of only having a careless lack of acquired knowledge!


Therefore, what we see on daily display is a classic case of history repeating and a self-designed and defined Zeitgeist that causes far too many words in a “feel-good”, “fancy-sounding”, or “marketing-friendly”, but factually wrong context.


Timeless leadership lessons

History has repeatedly shown that those in leadership who were least driven by ego and stood apart from the crowd without any need for external validation...


Were the long-lasting, successful and exemplary ones!


Therefore, modern-day executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs may need occasional reminders, as they often fail to see the whole picture, which spans generations, centuries, millennia, and all recorded time.


Because leadership worth following is about responsibility, accountability, and setting examples!

Also, the two timeless leadership lessons from history that today’s declared self-made kings, enigmatic empresses, and ambitious leaders should know are…


That they are indeed mortal and that every empire is eventually doomed to crumble, fall and disappear.


Which is undeniable, factually proven, and yes, also dead certain!


Regardless of how long, often, shiny and loud the promotion and persuasive re-invention of wheels with the ongoing re-labelling of sudden downloaded “wisdom and codes” will last.



Lars Friedrich, Leadership Expert

Lars Friedrich, a seasoned expert in personal and professional leadership development, brings a unique 'Touch of Zen' to his approach. This distinctive method, honed over a proven track record of over three decades, sets him apart in the field and piques his curiosity.

With a career that has spanned from being a former Officer and Special Forces Operator to a COO in international and intercultural corporate business operations and development positions, and now as the founder of his boutique business, Lars has accumulated a wealth of practical leadership, resilience, discipline, motivation, endurance, commitment, persistence, and dedication.





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