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Spartacus wasn’t an accredited leader. He hadn’t read any leadership books. He hadn’t been on a leadership development programme. He didn’t even have a leadership qualification. But that didn’t stop him from being one of the greatest leaders ever depicted in a film.

Slavery repulsed him

Spartacus believed men should be free; one human shouldn’t be able to own another human, or to kill another for the pleasure of others. As a man of carefully chosen words, he painted a picture of hope and compassion, where all slaves could return to the place they came from. Where they could be reunited with their families and their fellow men. Where everyone would be free.

His followers felt the same

As he moved from town to town, other slaves joined him. They became an unstoppable army, a force of impressive power driving though Italy towards the sea. They fought cold Roman political logic with passion, expectation and faith, defeating army after army until they were finally cornered. And when faced with a certain death not only was Spartacus willing to sacrifice himself, his followers were willing to sacrifice themselves too. With the infamous call of “I am Spartacus”, one by one they stood up for their leader and their dream of a better life.

 Leadership isn't about winning

I love this film because it shows leadership isn’t necessarily about reading books, attending development programmes or gaining paper qualifications. It isn’t even about having a big sword or exquisite gladiatorial skills.

What it is about is how great leaders make their vision, values and beliefs visible through their actions, their behaviour and their communication. It’s about how they build a palpable feeling of goodness, rightness and hope by what they do and what they say. It’s about how they build a feeling so compelling, the vision is no longer a dream it becomes a ‘force in people’s hearts’. It's about how leaders make followers.

And why do they do it? What’s their purpose? For what reason do leaders lead?

Spartacus didn’t do it to hit a target, or tick a box, or check in at a ‘milestone’. He didn't do it to make himself feel good with a "I've got a bigger army than you" mentality. He did it because it was important to him; it was what he believed in, it was what was in his heart. He didn't set out to be a leader, but his values, beliefs and vision were his identity, and that’s what created the feeling that compelled others to follow him – he walked the talk.

Release the slave 

Now I’m not suggesting you should be willing to die to further your professional development, but what if you don’t need a book, a development programme or a qualification to unleash the leader in you? What if you just have to make your vision, values and beliefs visible through your speech and your actions? What if you just had to behave in a way that reflected what’s in your heart? How would you do it? How would you become a 21st century leader like Spartacus?

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