Theodor Paleologu: “In a country where too many people want to be the boss, it is no wonder there are such few leaders”

As a descendent of a family who gave out byzantine emperors and then Romanian leaders in various fields of activity, Theodor Paleologu followed in his ancestors’ footsteps. He was ambassador in Denmark (2005-2008), Minister of Culture (2008- 2009), and since 2008 up to the present he has had two succesive mandates in the Chamber of Deputies. However, as a Philosophy graduate with a Ph.D in Political Sciences, he enjoys teaching most of all. He does it almost every day of the week at the Paleologu House Foundation, providing a different perspective on the art of leadership. The approach is inspired by the Antiquity’s leaders and it goes deeper than the “tips and tricks” model that is promoted by the multitude of “trainers” and “coaches” who are fashionable today.

What is a leader and how can we define one? 

The Romanian word for leader means “ruler” and the verb “to lead” is the perfect equivalent for “to rule”. Therefore, why do we use the terms “leader” and “leadership”? Just because we are under the impression that we get smarter whenever we use English-rooted words? 

I believe one of the reasons is the difficulty to translate “leadership” into the Romanian language: the art of leading? the science of ruling? all the qualities that make someone a ruler? There are too many periphrases here: the term “leadership” is more synthetic and bears in it all the meanings added by a huge amount of literature on this subject. The only problem is that this huge amount of literature is not all that good. 

Only on Amazon.com there are over 177,000 references. So, we have hundreds of thousands of books on the subject, not mentioning the countless programs, e-learnings and trainings. There is a lot of “bullshit” on this, as Jeffrey Pfeffer has observed – a great specialist – in one of his books (I recommend it: the name is exactly “Leadership BS”). 

I believe that the Authors of Antiquity remain the most important and fertile references. I don’t deny the importance of some of the more recent works, I also have my favorite modern and contemporary authors, but the best of these also get their inspiration from the classics. 

Can you give some examples? 

Homer’s “Iliad”, for example, is a fabulous leadership manual. It presents leaders of all sorts, from Agamemnon to Achilles, Ulises, Diomede, Hector, Priam, Ajax, Nestor, just to name some of the most spectacular ones. 

Agamemnon is, for example, the supreme leader of Achaean people thanks to his inherited power. He makes mistakes, the worst of them was the injustice towards Achilles, but then he admits his mistakes and does everything he can to fix them. Achilles is a leader due to his exceptional warrior qualities. The old Nestor and Ulysses are leaders thanks to their intelligence and abilities, advice and speeches.

Good leadership cannot exist without good followership. We should emphasize on how the followership qualities are formed. In other words, we must start by learning to lead, control and discipline ourselves.

Read all the interview in The Art of Living Magazine no 15 DOWNLOAD