Leaders Managing Negative Emotions: The Episode Between Cyrus and Cyaxares in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia


In the Cyropaedia, Xenophon (431–354 B.C.) recounts the life and deeds of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire (600–530 B.C.). Throughout this work Cyrus is depicted as an extremely ambitious and talented man, who manages to rule the Persians and many other nations with their consent. The theme of leadership and emotional intelligence is particularly apt in this context, since Xenophon provides valuable information not only about Cyrus’ emotions, but also about how he handles the emotions of his followers, allies, enemies, and rivals.

This case study focuses on a famous episode of the Cyropaedia, the encounter between the Persian prince, Cyrus, and his uncle, the Median King Cyaxares (5.5). The Median King expresses his discontent towards his nephew because the latter succeeded in gaining the affection of his people, the Medes, a fact that makes Cyaxares feel utterly dishonored. This section of the Cyropaedia is replete with emotions: anger, stress, shame, envy, jealousy, and friendship are either explicitly mentioned or indirectly expressed. Xenophon also presents a lengthy conversation between Cyrus and Cyaxares, in the course of which Cyrus attempts to mitigate his uncle’s negative emotions. This section of the Cyropaedia deserves close scrutiny, not only because of the plethora of emotions it stages but also because it can give rise to several reflections on the ways that leaders can handle negative emotions. This case study encourages students to reflect on negative emotions leaders arouse and the ways they resolve tensions deriving from these emotions.

This case was prepared for inclusion in SAGE Business Cases primarily as a basis for classroom discussion or self-study, and is not meant to illustrate either effective or ineffective management styles. Nothing herein shall be deemed to be an endorsement of any kind. This case is for scholarly, educational, or personal use only within your university, and cannot be forwarded outside the university or used for other commercial purposes.

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