In the epic, The Odyssey, by Homer, Odysseus portrays many qualities of a leader; innovation, communication, and motivation evidenced simply by the fact he completed his journey. Despite the challenges he faced and his inability to lead, at times, Odysseus made it back home to Ithaca. Without his effective leadership skills, he would not have been able to save his family.
Odysseus was an effective leader. Innovation, an important leadership characteristic, was portrayed during Book 12 Scylla and Charybdis when he encountered the Sirens. The Sirens are creatures who lure sailors with sweet singing to their island to eat them.
Knowing that if his men listened to the Sirens they too would be lured to their death, he quickly planned a way to avoid it. “Going forward I carried wax along the line, and laid it thick on their ears. They tied me up, then, plumb amidships, back to the mast, lashed to the mast, and took themselves again to rowing” (Homer,12.
18-22). Not only did Odysseus show innovation for his crew, he also executed on his plan by delegating his crew to tie him to the mast in order to save his own life. His effective leadership ability of innovation led him and his crew through the Sirens successfully. After traveling through the Sirens, Odysseus and his crew quickly came upon Scylla. “Scylla she is called the six-headed monster who lives in a cave… but her long necks can reach down all the way to the sea…” (Homer, 12. 42-48). Circe’s advice to Odysseus was to avoid telling his men the truth about Scylla; six men must die in order for the rest of them to survive.
“She’ll snatch away six of your men, one in each mouth, but if you row hard, the rest of you will escape with your ship intact.” (Homer, 12. 49-56) This was a pivotal moment for Odysseus, he knew by telling his crew it would do no good, however, as a leader, communication is critical. Odysseus choose to listen to Circe’s advice and not tell his crew. This action exhibited effective leadership qualities that kept his crew motivated for the long journey home. Certain situations challenged Odysseus leadership qualities and his ability to lead was less effective. During the time when he and his crew were stranded on the island of Thrinacia an oath was made to never touch Helios’ cattle.
As his crew began to run out of food and were desperate to eat, the importance of keeping the oath began to weaken; his crew saw food while Odyssey saw destruction. He chose to pray to the Gods in quiet. While doing so members of the crew exhibited leadership by motivating the crew that death by starvation was not an honorable death; they chose to eat the cattle. “Comrades, hear me! All men fear death, but the worst death of all is starvation. It is repugnant, painful, and slow. We should not die pitifully on this beach, with these fat, majestic cattle so near at hand.
We’ll make sacrifices to the Sun God, promise him a grand temple on Ithaca, ask his forgiveness. If he destroys us instead, at least we’ll go down fighting!” (Homer, 12. 117- 122) Odysseus chose to be passive during a moment of great starvation which was ineffective in motivating his men to keep their end of the bargain during a time he should have been communicating the great importance of the oath. Lack of communication and pride continued to be a theme that made Odysseus an ineffective leader. During his travels he encountered a floating island made of gold called Aeolia, the home of king Aeolus.
King Aeolus gifted Odysseus a “godly gift” (Homer, 10, 13). “He captured the winds and bound them up in a great bag….”(Homer, 10.13-16) which could be used to redirect his crew towards Ithaca.
Odysseus kept the godly gift to himself and did not communicate to his crew what it was. His crew grew suspicious and believed the bag contained gold and riches. The crew decided to steal the bag which resulted in an enormous windstorm which blew them all the way back to Aeolia. If Odysseus would have effectively communicated what the bag was and the importance of its content his crew would have remained on their path home. Innovation seemed to be a strength of Odysseus being able to quickly think, plan and adapt to situations. However, communication and motivation proved to both effective and ineffective.
In the first example where Odysseus remained quiet about his knowledge of the six headed monster saved many of his crews lives, however his same quiet decision regarding the sacred cows and godly bag of wind, caused mass destruction.In the end, the mission for Odysseus was to return home to save his family, which he achieved. If Odysseus was not an effective leader, he would not have achieved his goal. He was able to motivate, communication and innovate in order to move forward and find his way back home.