What an Ancient Parable Says About Your Leadership Style

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What does the fox say? Archilochus, an ancient Greek poet knew the answer to our modern day song. He wrote an ancient parable with this moral. “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Are you still riddled? His point was that some people see details in everything they do. They see multiple outcomes. The fox sees things this way. Others have a more singular vision. Such as the hedgehog.

A Difference In Strategy

There’s a 1953 essay by a philosopher named Isaiah Berlin. A Yale professor named John Lewis Gaddin referenced this essay in his popular seminar titled, “On Grand Strategy.” Gaddin discusses how great leaders can be categorized as either a fox or a hedgehog. He even went so far as to say that this split can divide writers from thinkers.

The difference between the fox and the hedgehog is how they react to their environment. When a fox is hunted, they find multiple clever ways to evade the hunter. When a hedgehog is hunted, it curls up into a ball and lies still.

The fox is pursuing many ends. These ends may be unrelated and contradictory to each other. The hedgehog believes that everything they are and say has significance. It relates everything to a single vision. In this vision, they see that the hunter will either kill them where they stand, or move on. They aren’t going to waste precious energy on futile running. Either kill it or don’t.

Blending The Two Styles

Gaddis points out that Abraham Lincoln embodied the best of both animals in his leadership style. Lincoln focused on preserving the principles of the Declaration of Independence. A definite hedgehog strategy. A praiseworthy singular cause. In his goal to abolish slavery, Lincoln had to think like a fox. He had to move the thirteenth amendment through a House of Representatives that was fractured.

Lincoln knew that the future of our country depended on both the big picture and the individual details. His singular goal was to preserve the Union. However, to do so, he had to rely at times on bribery, flattery, and even lies at times. Thankfully his hedgehog vision blended with his foxy strategizing was successful!

Lincoln’s example is a prime showing of how both the fox and the hedgehog strategy can be used together for success in leadership. Which type of leader do you want to be? A fox or a hedgehog? As for me, I’d like to be both.

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