How to be a leader with Plutarch

Part III of the Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers series

Figs in Winter
10 min readDec 19, 2022


[Based on How to Be a Leader: An Ancient Guide to Wise Leadership, by Plutarch, translated by Jeffrey Beneker. Full book series here.]

Most human societies are hierarchically structured. At least, all non-nomadic, agriculture based, literate societies characterized by division of labor. If there is a hierarchy, then we need leaders. Good leaders, preferably. While these days the word “leader” is more likely to bring to mind the CEO of a multinational company, my concern here is with sound political leadership which — perhaps the gentle reader might agree — has been sorely lacking of late, both nationally and internationally.

Indeed, I am so concerned with the issue of what makes for a good political leader that I wrote a book about it, The Quest for Character: What the Story of Socrates and Alcibiades Teaches Us about Our Search for Good Leaders. In it, I reach two conclusions about what we should do as a society: (i) get rid of most current leaders who, after all, were elected by us; and (ii) focus our attention on raising a more ethically oriented next generation, by teaching kids about practical moral philosophy (see an example here).

But of course I’m not the first one write about leadership (nor, certainly, will I…