Teacher to Alexander, student to Socrates: Xenophon retells one of the greatest leadership and war stories in recorded history. Through this series, we explore how ordinary men responded to crisis and found the incredible strength within to live and pass on their lessons to us today. In this installment we look at the root of rebellion and having an honest vision.

Alexander The Great set into motion the events that would create the modern world. He studied and was inspired by Xenophon, a student-of-Socrates turned mercenary. Xenophon’s lessons on crisis leadership are timeless. In this series, we recount his epic, true story of war in the Anabasis and update this ancient wisdom to support you and your business the next time crisis hits.

STORY RECAP: Cyrus the Younger hires Greek mercenaries, The Ten Thousand, to kill his brother Artaxerxes II and seize the throne of the Persian Empire.


Lesson #2: How To Birth A Rebellion

Leaders rely on followership. They point to a direction and hope their subordinates will go towards that direction in a cohesive manner.

But leaders can lose followership.

They say, “the goal is x”, and their subordinates ignore them. Or worse, they may passive aggressively sabotage the mission or stage an outright mutiny.

What leads to rebellion or absolute mutiny?


After Cyrus hires The Ten Thousand, his goal was to march from Anatolia to Babylon (modern-day Turkey to modern-day Baghdad). At Babylon he would surprise his brother with a shock war.

March of the Ten Thousand | Xenophon offers critical lessons on crisis leadership taught to Alexander The Great.

The Ten Thousand would never agree to fight against King Artaxerxes. So far from home, this would be an insane risk and way “above their paygrade”.

So, Cyrus lied to them.

Instead, he said, the Greeks were to help him expel “barbarians” who were causing trouble for the Empire.

Under this pretense, the Greeks followed Cyrus into the heart of the Persian Empire.

About halfway to Babylon (and with no barbarians in sight) the Greeks’ skepticism grew and grew. At a stop in Tarsus (modern-day Turkey) they stopped and refused to advance further. They insisted their services would not be used against the rightful King, Artaxerxes.

One of the Greek generals, Clearchus, implored his men to continue. His troops responded by stoning him. Narrowly escaping death, Clearchus “for a long while stood and wept, while the men gazed in silent astonishment.”

Clearchus tried again.

He was torn between his oath of loyalty to Cyrus and his loyalty to his men. But he explained, “Never shall it be said of me by any one that, having led Greek troops against the barbarians, I betrayed the Greeks, and chose the friendship of the barbarian. No! since you do not choose to obey and follow me, I will follow after you.”

“My decision is taken. Wherever you go, I go also.”

Clearchus passion and honesty won him the trust of his troops. If Clearchus trusted Cyrus, then the Greek troops would trust Cyrus too. Setting their skepticism aside, they set off once more.


Vision creates followership. Direction creates followership.

When Cyrus lied about the mission, he organized men under false pretenses. Once revealed, the entire scheme almost fell apart.

Cyrus was saved by Clearchus’ vulnerability.

When Clearchus spoke his truth and chose to follow his troops rather than force them to follow, he spoke honestly and without manipulation. The truth recreated the bond of followership. The truth kept the leadership structure intact.

Today, many leaders lie to manipulate their employees. The news is constantly filled with companies knowingly committing fraud. But the extreme of fraud is not needed to lose followership.

Even the typical corporate double-speak is enough to erode motivation and engagement.

Is this business for making money or for saving the world?

A leader can’t keep talking about the second while making decisions solely based on the first and expect people to feel energized about work.

Today, we see a crisis in engagement levels. We’re willing to bet that if financial scarcity was removed, many employees would instantly quit their jobs. The crisis of “quiet quitting” is a crisis of vision, direction, honesty.

Just be honest. And then employees can agree to join with their full consent.

If not, then expect disengagement and rebellions.

In Summary: Have A Clear, Honest Vision