Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Failure of Purpose

The first campaigning season was a great disappointment; the departure of Alcibiades left the venture in the hands of a leader who did not believe in its goals and who had no strategy of his own to achieve them. Plutarch described the situation as follows: "Nicias, though theoretically one of two colleagues, held sole power. He did not stop sitting about, sailing around, and thinking things over until the vigorous hope of his men had grown feeble and the astonishment and fear that the first sight of his forces had imposed on his enemy had faded away" (Nicias 14.4). Since he still dared not leave Sicily, Nicias and his men would now be compelled to face the main enemy at Syracuse without a clear plan of action.

Perhaps the oversight was more a failure of purpose than of judgment. Nicias, as we have seen, never wanted to attack Sicily, and forced to take part in the campaign, intended to pursue a minimal course that would avoid any serious engagement. He had probably refused to consider any step as serious as an attack on Syracuse until circumstances made it unavoidable and then found himself without the forces to carry it out.

Donald Kagan, The Peloponnesian War, (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 274, 279.
Nicias, 470-413 B.C., was a politician/general/leader for Athens during the Peloponnesian War. He was known for his character and virtue, and by all accounts seemed to be a guy that the Athenians liked and admired. He was a watered-down version of the great Pericles, mostly being like him in that he did not desire war and conflict with Sparta. In fact, it was under his leadership that lead to a brief moment of potential peace in 421 B.C. between Athens and Sparta. The Athenians responded well to his leadership and had consistently placed him a position to make decisions. Despite a lack in military success, Nicias' endearment to the people kept him in power.

Unfortunately for Athens, a crisis came about on the island of Sicily in 415 B.C. As a result it pitted Athenian interests against those of Syracuse (allied with Sparta). The Athenians voted for bold action and war in Sicily, of which Nicias was strongly against. Despite his repeated attempts to avoid the conflict, Athens jumped into it with Nicias as the key leader. A variety of mistakes would follow ending not only with the defeat of the Athenians, but also with the death of Nicias. Athens was ill-prepared for battle lacking man-power, strategy, and even the drive to win. Nicias committed folly after folly ending with a decision to refuse withdrawal simply to protect his name. The Sicily was an absolute disaster for the Athenians and seemingly the end of the war.

Failure of purpose. That was the crime of Nicias in the Sicily campaign. His heart simply was not in the conflict. He did not believe in its aims or even necessarily its goals. He was just going through the motions while attempting to maintain his position and prestige. He could not plan, develop strategy or even make solid decisions in the moment. Without heart, he could not pour himself into the mission. I think we see this very issue in a lot of people today. On a regular basis we see people failing or at the very least failing the organization they are a part of because of a failure of purpose. Having character, a solid skill-set and even leadership ability do not matter without heart. It does not make a person a bad person - it simply means they are not in the right position for themselves. You have to believe in what you are doing if you have any hope of succeeding. Even if some form of success is seen, chances are likely the person is simply a hollow version of what they could be if they truly believed.

So the question becomes - are you like Nicias? Are you going through the motions hanging onto some position or place of leadership simply because you don't have the guts to step down and pursue that which you desire to do? Are you struggling to succeed not because of inability but lack of purpose? The end result for Nicias was death by execution. What will be your end result if you stay mired in the same place you are in now?