Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Xenophon's (the Education of Cyrus) and Ideal Leadership Lessons for Modern Public Administration

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Xenophon's (the Education of Cyrus) and Ideal Leadership Lessons for Modern Public Administration

Article excerpt


This article addresses exceptional qualities for ideal leadership in public service and administration. It argues that discussions of leadership and civic virtue should include the work of Xenophon, the Greek philosopher, on public education for public service. A student of Socrates, Xenophon (430-355 BC) found personal fulfillment and professional expertise with Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire. His writings provide a theoretical side of Socrates as well as a practical view of an effective leadership style found in Ancient Persia. While Plato wrote on an ideal government led by a philosopher, Xenophon served as a leader himself and then wrote about the exceptional qualities of leadership he admired in Cyrus the Great. His key work, Cyropaedia (Education of Cyrus) explains the virtues and characteristics of an ideal leader. Education, equality, consensus, justice, and service to state as well as to the broad-based public are the qualities embodied in Cyrus the Great. These values have clear implications for modern public administration. A great body of research has been developed over the years on leadership but perhaps what public leaders need most can be found in the writings of a simple, practical, and virtuous individual, Xenophon who lived 2400 years ago and presented the exceptional characteristics of ideal leadership in Cyrus of Persia.


Preparation for public service and leadership development are among the most important concerns for all societies ever since ancient civilizations began to grow. This exploration of Xenophon includes an historical overview of his life, an explanation of "Cyropaedia," and a discussion regarding the importance of his writings and life. His works have given us a vivid picture of life in Greece and Persia during the fourth century BC.

In addition to his perspective and knowledge, Xenophon provides and admirable concept for education and moral responsibility. It is especially interesting to see how he interrelates these two concepts: that developing a moral code and acting responsibly go hand in hand with the educational process. This was part of his discussions about the roles and responsibilities of rulers and citizens. he has very much given us the foundations of public administration and the state's responsibilities to those it serves. This article provides a brief history of Xenophon's life, looks at the link between him and Socrates, and explores some of the themes in Cyropaedia that relate to public administration.

The purpose of this article is to analyze the key work of Xenophon for implications in modern day leadership of public organizations. The academic world is experiencing resurgence in political science and public administration regarding the study of ancient texts for leadership qualities. Many of the self help books on the bestseller lists recommend that leaders subscribe to many of the same values and principles idealized in Cyrus the Great more than 2500 years ago. Xenophon's description of the ideal leader is timeless and has important lessons for public administrators.

The values and principles embodies in Xenophon's Cyrus as well as in Xenophon himself endure and are an example for current leaders in public service and administration worldwide. Information for this article is drawn from historical data, especially from ancient works of Xenophon, Socrates, and contemporary literature on public service leadership. The focus, however, is on Cyropaedia as a leading work on both Cyrus the Younger and the father of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great, which has gained significant scholarly attention.


Various interpretations of the life of Xenophon seem to agree that he lived about 75 years, from 430 BC to approximately 355 BC. He was born outside of Athens into a prominent and well-respected family. It is said that his father was an Athenian Knight (Encarta, 2000). …

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