The most dangerous leadership myth is that the leaders are born 

We all know Aesop's fable about the ant and the cicada, the grasshopper. How the ant, a focused and disciplined creature, works hard during summer to store food for the winter while the grasshopper spends his time singing and having a good time, urging the ant to join in the fun, but the ant refuses. Then the winter comes with cold and snow and no food around. I picture the ant in the living room of its cozy nest, (I must have actually seen this picture reading the fable when I was a child) resting in front of the fireplace when he hears a knock on the door. It's the half dying cicada that asks for help. In my childhood book the ant takes in the cicada and saves his life from charity, the cicada sings for both of them in front of the fire; in another version the revengeful ant sends the grasshopper away to die in the snow. I don't know what's the original true version of Aesop, I hope it's the first one. I just don't think we have actually grasped the true meaning of the fable although we have taught our children with it a thousand years now. I now believe grasshoppers are essential to the balance of species, ants need them as grasshoppers need ants and when when one contributes and supports the other it should be done in a sense of respect, not charity. Let me try and explain. 

I had a friend. He was the grasshopper, I was the ant. We met at our twenties in the army. Special forces, tough times. He had a car and gave me a ride to Athens, He lived in a nice flat which he sometimes shared with his fiancee. I had neither a car nor a fiancee. He was a few years older than me and all that made him a kind of mentor to me. He seemed to enjoy his role and I believe he felt a little flattered and superior due to my devotion. He introduced me to his wide circle of friends, many architects who had studied in Italy like he did, and we went out with girls in dates he had fixed (that's how I met my wife). He took me to the bouzoukia, the Greek equivalent of high end clubbing, which had never been my favorite and could not afford anyway. He always paid when he was around, didn't accept anyone else to do so. My friend was the king of the place wherever he was. A full blown extrovert and a fanatic optimist he knew how to attract the attention of the waiters who knew him by name and served him only the best. He taught me how to boil good espresso coffee, cook pasta al dente and cover it in some melted Italian cheese and basil sauce. He didn't come from a wealthy family, on the contrary, but he was always ready to spend for friends. He smoked a lot, slept like a log, when he drank, he drank a lot (never too much though) he danced and sank and always managed to bring together people who also did these things a lot.  

Years went by, he got married, he got divorced and did that a couple of times more. In the meantime the ant was collecting more and more precious social skills. And then came the Greek crisis. The Winter. The grasshopper closed down the office and moved to his family summer house to save the rent. His halo followed him there too. He drew artistic pencil sketches on the walls and invited over a rock band made up of friends to play in the garden during sunny Sunday mornings. Unpaid bills piled up and the social security expired long ago. He kept smoking and looked a bit more concerned.  

When I visited him at the hospital, although he suffered, he was still ready for a pleasant conversation and a quick joke. I wanted to lighten up the atmosphere and told him I had met a man with a silly name. It had to do with eggs, his name, I tried to remember, how many? I said "he was called Five-eggs, isn't that silly?" He looked at me in bewilderment "It can't be", he said, "eggs come in even numbers", the singing cicada had picked something in the universe that was out of tune, his sense of balance and harmony was offended. He was right, the silly name I was trying to remember was "Sarantavgas" Fortyeggs; eggs come in even numbers. He died a few days later.

Rest in peace George.  


The writer's short bio:

After a career that reached senior positions in multinational organizations, Artemios Miropoulos is now a co-owner of Linkage in Greece, US' most highly respected Leadership Development company. He is working with senior and middle management teams of large domestic and international corporations as a workshop facilitator, an executive coach and a public speaker. He has studied Mechanical Engineering, Marketing and HR and Performance Management in Greece and abroad. He lives in Athens with his wife Julie and their three daughters.