Pelopidas: Risking Personal Security for Institutional Success

Abstract

Pelopidas of Thebes, one of the leaders of the fourth-century bc Boeotian League, consistently endured physical and political risk in order to guarantee the security of the federal state he represented, beginning with his infiltration and liberation of Thebes from Spartan control. Throughout his career, Pelopidas effectively weighed personal risks against institutional gains, such as when he faced the death penalty for extending the term of his command to ensure that the Spartans could no longer threaten Thebes. After an eclipse, taken as an omen, prevented his army from leaving Thebes in 364 bc, Pelopidas went on alone to take command of an allied army and secure Boeotia’s northern border. In doing so, he guaranteed the only Theban life at risk would be his own. His death in battle, brought about by a lapse in reason and a surge in emotion, teaches a valuable lesson on maintaining rational thought in evaluating risk. This case encourages students to consider the personal costs associated with leadership and how to effectively balance the safety/security of an individual leader with the success of the wider organization.

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