“Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield, is a work of historical fiction about the Battle of Thermopylae, this is the famous 300 Spartans battle. It is written from the viewpoint of the character Xeones, a lone, low ranking Spartan who barely survived the battle, taken by Xerxes forces and upon hearing of the survivor, Xerxes orders that his personal surgeons and doctors administer medical attention keep him alive. The God-King wishes to learn more about the Spartans, who they were and why they defied him so fiercely.
There is a passage that has stuck in my mind all these years where Xeones describes the character of Leonidas and why his men would willingly risk life and limb for him, even after he is dead…
“Does His Majest recall that moment… after Leonidas had fallen… Can His Majesty recall that surge… when a corps of Spartans hurled themselves into the teeth of the vaunting foe and flung them back, to retrieve the corpse of their King?
I refer neither to the first time nor the second or third, but the fourth, when there stood fewer than a hundred of them… dueling an enemy massed in their thousands.
I will tell His Majesty what a King is.
A King does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provdes it to them. He serves them, not they him…
That is a King, Your Majesty.
A King does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free.”Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield
Can you see why this has stuck with me for so long, despite my reading it some ten years ago? This is extreme ownership coupled with servant leadership. Though given from a masculine frame in the narrative, leadership like this transcends gender.
This is the kind of leader I long to be.
We need this kind of selflessness in our leaders. From leading the family and home, to community and faith leaders, to city and county leaders, to state and national leaders.
No more talk.
DO IT. BE IT.
We need these leaders.