[...] Ask virtually any Alexander historian what made him a great leader, and they will answer you the same way: "He led from the front. He never asked his men to do anything he wouldn't do himself."
The examples from a legendary life (356-323 B.C.) are legion: Alexander always seemed to be the first to charge up some riverbank or scale a high wall. Laura Foreman, author of the new "Alexander the Conqueror" (Da Capo Press), likes to tell the story of Alexander's march in 325 B.C. across the grueling Makran Desert (in present-day Pakistan), something no one had ever accomplished before. At one point, some of Alexander's men found a little water and brought it to their king so he could slake his thirst.
Instead, a grateful Alexander poured it into the searing sand: If they could not drink, neither would he. Heartened, the army continued its march, emerging from the desert after two months but not without a terrible loss of life.
Why did he risk this challenge, and the welfare of his men? The leader walks a fine line between fortitude and foolhardiness. And what is heroic in one age, appears merely reckless in the next.
Indeed, observers say, it is not that we lack leaders with the daring and skills of Alexander today, but that the landscape of leadership has shifted from the hands-on autocracy of an Alexander to high-tech democracy, in which those at the top are often at a remove, and a disadvantage.
"When we think of leaders in battles today, we think of them at command centers way back behind the front lines," says Jim Lindsay, producer and director of The History Channel's "Alexander the Great" (8 p.m. Nov. 7). "Wars are now fought in different ways. For all practical purposes, there are no clear rules anymore. How do you advise soldiers how to recognize the enemy when it could be an 18-year-old girl with explosives strapped to her?...The battlefield has gotten foggy."
The vision thing
But just because the rules of engagement have changed on the battlefield and in the boardroom compounded by increasingly intricate layers of technology and bureaucracy doesn't absent the leader from accountability.
"It probably does make it more difficult," says Donald Trump of leading in a shifting landscape. "I am fortunate to have a solid core group working for me, as I am very much involved in all my businesses. This takes time and requires patience, but it's worth it. Everyone reports to me, and no one can remain 'uninvolved' or once-removed."
Nor do the changing rules of engagement mean that we can't learn from history, observers say. And the lesson of history is that there is no leader without first a dream, an idea that is either a response to a current crisis or a plan for the future. Think of Elizabeth I, forged in religious strife, presiding over England's golden age; Gandhi, choosing the nonviolent path to India's independence; Martin Luther King Jr. championing the content of a person's character as the criterion for acceptance.
"You have to have confidence in your abilities, your instincts, your vision," says Trump, who named the most luxurious suite in the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City after Alexander the Great.
In an age when myths were real and kings could become gods, Alexander envisioned himself as the new Achilles, striking out for the East once more but this time for a prize greater than Troy the Persian Empire and beyond.
But it's not enough to have a dream. You must persuade others to share it.
"Great leaders instill great loyalty," Trump says.
"That was something that impressed me from the get-go," filmmaker Lindsay says of Alexander, "how one guy could get 40,000 other guys to follow him for 12 years for 20,000 miles. Talk about charisma."
The common touch
Alexander had more than charisma. There was the well-trained Macedonian army's appetite for glory and treasure; the Greeks' fear of Persian aggression and desire to avenge past atrocities; his youth, beauty and charm, crystallized into an iconic image. And something else.
"What makes Alexander a great leader is the connections," author Bose says. "He could be seen hanging out with his generals, planning pitch battles or visiting with his troops. He would call out his men by name and remind them of battles in which they had fought well."
"He also expended resources on the army. He wasn't cheap," says historian William M. Murray, one of the on-camera experts in The History Channel's "Alexander the Great." "The army was well-paid....The men went back home rich, which is something we know from their tombs."
Alexander's bond with his men would be echoed at the turn of the 19th century by British admiral Horatio Nelson, says author Foreman, who co-wrote "Napoleon's Lost Fleet: Bonaparte, Nelson, and the Battle of the Nile." "The basics of their management style were so similar: Without people under you, you're going nowhere."
This is in sharp contrast, she says, to some of today's managers, who are more interested in kissing up to their employers than promoting their employees.
The true leader, observers say, is secure enough to cultivate the talents of others.
"I try to hire people who are smarter than I am, because if they do a great job, it will reflect on me," says author Bose, a former North White Plains resident who serves as marketing director at the law firm of Allen & Overy in London.
Few leaders absorbed this lesson better than George Washington, who mentored such brilliant young officers as Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette and who combined such diverse luminaries as Hamilton, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in his administration.
Alexander, too, had "excellent sub-officers, five or six generals who would later emerge as kings," historian Murray says. And he conferred real power on them. But he was also something of a control freak, scouting locales, knowing what goods and equipment were needed, planning battles down to the minutiae and always keeping plan B at the ready. The leader, Murray says, must strike the balance between Ronald Reagan's delegation of authority and Jimmy Carter's mastery of detail.
Buoyed on a wire
Perhaps the toughest balancing act of all, however, is the one between concern for others and the need to remain somewhat aloof. You can see this struggle in the Met's insightful "Gilbert Stuart" show, as the determined face of Washington gives nothing away.
Historian Robin Lane Fox, adviser on the film "Alexander," says he spent time discussing the isolation of leadership with star Farrell, who displayed what he calls "real Alexander style" on the set commanding and fearless: "He said to me, 'You can have plenty of friends, but when you're set apart, you can be lonely.'"
The movie star intuits what the leader soon learns that when you belong to everyone, you risk belonging to no one.
And yet, the leader can't afford to lose touch with his people and his origins, which many historians say happened to Alexander as he became virtually omnipotent, farther removed from the Macedon of his youth, more inured in his quest for the far horizon, and more susceptible to the loss of those who had known and loved him best.
Still, against all odds and the possibility of plummeting into despair, the leader dances on the wire, buoyed by something that has sustained leaders from the beginning.
It is the quality that accompanied Alexander on his quest. Once when he gave away much of his booty, one of his men asked him what he would be left with.
He replied simply, "My hopes."