Thucydides on Innovative Leadership and its Limits
Political Science Reviewer, Volume 42.2
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collective identity
innovative leadership

How to Cite

Thucydides on Innovative Leadership and its Limits: Pericles of Athens. (2020). The Political Science Reviewer, 44(2), 327-352.


Of all the vibrant examples of leadership to be discovered in the history of classical Greece, Pericles of Athens promises to be the most illuminating for us. This essay seeks to sharpen our focus on Pericles’ leadership by clarifying his role as an innovator with respect to the Athenian way of life. Drawing on Howard Gardner’s cognitive theory of leadership, I argue that it can be illuminating to view Pericles in terms of his practice of using persuasive storytelling abilities to innovate the narratives that the Athenians told about themselves. With primary focus on Thucydides’ discussion of Pericles in his War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, I show that Pericles’ innovative reforms were grand in scope and include the urbanization and secularization of Athens, as well as the development of Athens as a naval people. Thucydides also shows, however, that for all of his successes, Pericles was unable to invest his innovative reforms with the power to endure. Accordingly, and going well beyond Gardner and his innovative leadership model, I conclude that Thucydides’ history can brightly clarify the limits of innovative leadership that are naturally a function of the overall context in which such a project takes place.

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