A rising Caribbean Alexander?

There are many leaders in the world today who fancy themselves cut from the same cloth that gave rise to Alexander III of Macedon. Alexander would rule over one of the largest empires of the ancient world by the time he was 30, a feat which led to the Romans dubbing him Alexander the Great. But for all his accomplishments, everything fell apart following his death at just 33 years old. And there is a reason for that, which I will discuss later.

Today the battleground may be different, but whether it’s the corporate world or in the realm of politics, there are many who demonstrate the same arrogance (not always a bad thing) for which Alexander was renowned. One such fellow lives right here in the Caribbean, the Honorable Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne.

Prime Minister Browne is not one to mince words, and has no problem lashing out at his perceived ‘enemies’. Only recently he proffered the idea of ‘entrepreneurial socialism’ and is cultivating a movement toward nationalization. Not only has he unleashed his wrath on investors in his own country, he has also gone to the United Nations wagging his finger at developed nations.

He most recently slammed the President of the United States regarding the Paris climate agreement. He also chided regional leaders saying that they need to step up, and was quite happy to ‘lead’ the way along with Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. It seems that PM Browne, like Alexander, clearly has a very high opinion of himself, which is the gateway attitude that leads to hubris.

Ironically it was the ancient Greeks who warned of hubris, Alexander himself being a student of Aristotle. Listen …stepping up is not a bad thing. Breaking from the norm is not always a bad thing. But getting drunk on one’s own Kool-Aid? Well therein lays the obsession. So PM Browne would fashion himself Gaston the Great (some of his followers already call him ‘World Boss’; a name he seems to covet) and let his influence diffuse throughout the world.

But here’s the thing the people of Antigua and Barbuda need to be wary of, because you see the same drive to win that propels an Alexander to unimaginable heights of power can just as easily result in out-of-control behaviour with disastrous consequences.

Steve Forbes (Forbes Business Magazine) and John Prevas (historian and classical scholar), in their study called Power Ambition Glory: The Stunning Parallels between Great Leaders and the Ancient World and Today, draw some interesting analogies which we should not be unmindful of.

They point out that there is no question that today, whether in the corporate or in the political realm, Alexander would be the boss, setting the direction and the pace. Initially investors or voters would love him. But inevitably, overextending himself … driven by an ego that compelled him to conquer everything in sight, and engaging in an excessive lifestyle, he would become an expensive embarrassment and have to be pushed out of the corporate jet with a multi-million-dollar parachute to soften his landing.

There is something else that comes with that. It’s called Narcissistic Personality Disorder, for which the good PM Browne seems to be displaying all the symptoms. Dr Adrian Furnham, a well-known organizational and applied psychologist, explained that people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) self-destruct because their self-aggrandisement blinds their personal and business judgment and managerial behaviour. They exploit others to get ahead yet they demand special treatment.

Their reaction to any sort of criticism is extreme, including shame, rage, and tantrums. They aim to destroy that criticism, however well-intentioned and useful. They are poor empathisers and thus have low emotional intelligence.  They can be consumed with envy and disdain of others, and are prone to depression as well as manipulative, demanding and self-centered behaviours. Sounds familiar??

From what Forbes and Prevas discovered, and as I am hoping to caution the people of Antigua and Barbuda, the real story of Alexander is a tragic case of what happens when too much power is concentrated in hands not strong enough to use it constructively or wisely. Each successive conquest bred arrogance in Alexander instead of caution, moderation, and reflection. He not only destroyed himself but carried with him an entire civilization that believed his success was confirmation of its cultural superiority over the rest of humanity.

Alexander is a cautionary example for today’s leaders and I daresay for Prime Minister Browne in particular. Success not only in the corporate world but in politics can frequently end in personal tragedy and failure. It can undermine the best achievements of the most brilliant leaders if they lack self-control and the discipline to remain focused on what is important and keep their success in perspective.

This is my concern and my fear for the lovely people of Antigua and Barbuda and their current leader, who seems keen on fashioning himself Gaston the Great!

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