So You Want to Be a Leader?

The following is an ancient story that teaches us that leadership is not always what it seems. So, be careful what you wish for…

There was once a king whose name was Dionysius. He was very rich, and he lived in a fine palace where there were many beautiful and costly things, and he was waited upon by a host of servants who were always ready to do his bidding.

One day a friend of his, whose name was Damocles, said to him, “How happy you must be! You have here everything that any man could wish.”

“Do you really think I am happier than everyone else? Perhaps you would like to change places with me,” said Dionysius.

“Oh, I would never dream of that O king!” said Damocles; “but I think, that, if I could only have your riches and your pleasures for one day, I should not want any greater happiness.”

“Very well,” said the Dionysius. “You shall have them.”

And so, the next day, Damocles was led into the palace, and all the servants were bidden to treat him as their master. He sat down at a table in the banquet hall, and rich foods were placed before him. Nothing was wanting that could give him pleasure. There were costly wines, and beautiful flowers, and rare perfumes, and delightful music. He rested himself among soft cushions, and felt that he was the happiest man in all the world.

Then he chanced to raise his eyes toward the ceiling. What was it that was dangling above him, with its point almost touching his head? It was a sharp sword, and it was hung by only a single horse-hair. What if the hair should break? There was danger every moment that it would do so.

The smile faded from the lips of Damocles. His face became ashy pale. His hands trembled. He wanted no more food; he could drink no more wine; he took no more delight in the music. He longed to be out of the palace, and away, he cared not where.

“What is the matter?” said Dionysius.

“That sword! That sword!” cried Damocles. “Don’t you see it?” He was so badly frightened that he dared not move.

“Yes,” said Dionysius, “Of course I see it. I see it every day. It hangs over my head, and there is always the chance someone or something may cut the slim thread. Perhaps one of my own advisors will grow jealous of my power and try to kill me. Or, someone may spread lies about me, to turn the people against me. It may be that a neighboring kingdom will send an army to seize this throne. Or, I might make an unwise decision that will bring my downfall. If you want to be a leader, you must be willing to accept these risks. They come with the power, you see.”

“Let me go,” said Damocles. “I now see that I was mistaken, and that you have much to think about besides riches and fame. Let me go back to my old home in the poor little cottage among the mountains.”

And so long as he lived, he never wanted to change places, even for a moment, with the king.