“Not to Fall Short of Those Before Me”: Xerxes and the Pitfalls of Rising to Power


The account of Xerxes’ ascent to the Persian throne by the Greek historian Herodotus (5th century BCE) highlights the opportunities and pitfalls presented to leaders in situations of transition of power. Confronted with diverse motives and expectations (established organizational practice, personal ambition, ethical norms, practical considerations), and in the face of conflicting recommendations by his advisers, King Xerxes decides whether to embark on a military expedition against Greece.

This case asks students to consider the dilemmas and challenges that new leaders face upon assuming power and the criteria that determine their decision-making. Students will consider what motivates new leaders; how institutional pressure influences their decisions; how new leaders respond to the “legacy” of their predecessors, and the role of the leaders’ advisers in the process.

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