Ideas in Antiquity--Leadership in the Ancient World: From Telemachus to T'Challa

Week Four: Anti-mentorship

This week we will continue with our exploration of the mentor-pupil relationship vis-a-vis becoming a leader, but we will instead look at the example of what we might call an "anti-mentor", someone who seemingly does similar things that Athena does for Telemachus, but for morally questionable motives. Our example will be taken from the fifth-century BCE play, the Philoctetes, by the Athenian tragic playwright, Sophocles.

Session One

Assignment One: As an introduction to the process of becoming a leader in Sophocles’ Philoctetes, read the following scenario and answer the associated written and survey questions.


You have just graduated from college and taken a job that you were able to secure through a family connection. The CEO of the large and prestigious company has taken you under her wing and has tremendous respect for your deceased mother, who had also worked in the same industry. She has promised to mentor you herself, even though you are just starting out. Right away, she is taking you on business trips all over the world and explaining to you how the company works. She often shares advice with you on how the “real world” works, too. One of the things she regularly tells you is that the world is made up of winners and losers--and that you have all the makings of a winner, just like your mother. She also tells you that reputation in this business is more important than anything. You must appear strong at all times and not succumb to any qualms about “what is fair.” Your advantage is more important than justice--not all the time, but at least sometimes. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, she explains. That’s how she got to where she is and she leaves the impression that that’s how your mother got there, too.

One day, your boss reveals to you that an employee at another company has been working for a number of years on a project (stored on her computer) that could miraculously make your company millions of dollars and likely make it the most successful company in the field, an envy to all others. Moreover, since your company is involved in many high-profile philanthropic organizations, you are certain that some of the profits would make their way to the less fortunate, helping to make the world a better place.

The only catch is that this employee hates your boss with a passion because she had cheated her out of a business deal some years back. She will never agree to work with your boss or your company on any terms. Nevertheless, your boss has asked you to become close friends with this person but not to reveal your company affiliation. In fact, she tells you to say that you are starting your own company, after a fallout with your old boss (=her), and you would like this woman to work help you do that. You are encouraged to build your friendship by commiserating about how terrible of a person your boss actually is. The goal is to get the woman to share with you, willingly or not, the project she has on her computer so that you may hand it over to your boss. Doing so will allow your company to capitalize on the project before anyone else can, but it will leave the creator of the project likely unemployed and even a pariah in the field. The legality of this proposed maneuver is questionable, but your boss has assured you that she’s “got your back” with the best lawyers and public relations experts there are. You believe that she is trustworthy on this score. Carrying out your boss’ request will secure your position at your new company for years to come and pave the way for you to climb the leadership ranks faster than you ever could by your own skills and training. Clearly, your boss is using this challenge to test whether you are truly a “winner” or “loser” in her eyes. If you do not accept the challenge, your future at the company will be uncertain and your chances of employment in this field will be significantly lower. What would you do in this scenario?

1. What emotions do you expect you would feel (mark all that apply)?

Happy and proud to have the favor of a highly successful businesswoman
sympathy with the idea that there are winners and losers in the world
Contempt for “losers”
Respect for “winners”
Fear of incurring your boss’ disdain if you don’t do what she asks
Fear of losing your position in the company
Shame at possibly being seen as a “loser”
Shame at the thought of not living up to your mom’s reputation
Panic and anxiety over how to handle this complicated situation
Confidence that you can carry out your boss’ request
Guilt over tricking someone who is innocent
Anxiety at the thought of having to mislead someone and possibly being caught
Excitement and pride at the thought of your company doing good philanthropic work with its profits
Envy for people in this world who have not been thrust into such scenarios
Self-pity that you do not deserve such a lot in life
Outrage toward your boss for asking you to take advantage of someone else
Surprise that your boss would try to manipulate you like this
Other emotion(s) (please explain):

2. Which three of these emotions do you believe you would find it most difficult to manage? Explain your choices.

3. Which three of these emotions do you believe you would find most easy to manage? Explain your choices.

4. Circle how easy or difficult you believe you would find it to carry out each of the following responses (very difficult, difficult, neutral, easy, very easy):

Agree to carry out your boss’ request and acquire the other woman’s project.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy
Refuse to carry out your boss’ request.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy
Talk your boss out of her request.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy
Denounce your boss to her face.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy
Report your boss to human resources or the police for possible corporate espionage.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy
Pretend to become friends with the woman who has the special project on her computer.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy
Pretend to hate your boss in front of the woman, in order to secure her loyalty.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy
Convince the woman to share her project with you, on the pretense that you will use it to start your own successful company.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy
Convince the woman that, even though your boss (whom she hates) had put you up to taking the project from her, you really do want to start a successful company with her.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy
Attempt to start your own company, even though you know your boss would likely do everything in her power to ruin you. 
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Assignment Two: Read Sophocles' Philoctetes, linked here, and answer the following questions:
1. In what ways does Odysseus resemble the mentor figure of Athena from the Odyssey in his relationship to Telemachus. Cite specific line numbers?
2. In what ways does Neoptolemus resist Odysseus' mentorship? Why does he eventually agree to his plan?
3. What prevents Neoptolemus, ultimately, from going through with the plan?

In our class discussion keep an eye out for the following ancient Greek terms: to dikaion ("that which is just"), to sumpheron ("that which is advantageous"), eleos. Keep an eye out for these characters: Odysseus, Neoptolemus, Philoctetes, Heracles (Hercules to the Romans).

Session Two

Assignment One: Answer the following questions:
1. Identify (if you can) three people in your life who have tried to mentor you specifically to perform a leadership role. What did they do to mentor you? 
2. What were there motives for mentoring you and how did you figure out their motives?
3. Were you ever mentored to do something that was morally questionable? And if so, how did you respond? How should you have responded?
4. Identify three times in your life when you have been very close to someone else's pain? How did you react? Did you react with pity, fear, indifference? How (if at all) did your proximity to their pain change you or your outlook on life?

Assignment Two: Revise your mentoring plan from last week to include measures to make sure that you do not fall prey to the "anti-mentoring" that Neoptolemus receives in the Philoctetes.