How to show up at work like a Spartan Part I

This! Is! SparTech!

What is it about Sparta that is so fascinating?  Before you all start screaming “300!” followed by vicious warrior grunts, let me share my own personal fascination. I promise we can get back to the super kamikaze warriors in the end.

When I set out to create or solve something my instinct and very first step is research. I find there is great value in seeing what has been tried before so that I can learn from the successes and failures of others. One of the things I set out to study for this site was the role of women over the course of history. I came across the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta in this great documentary by Bettany Hughes. If you are looking for a well-presented overview of Spartan society this documentary is really well done and well presented.

How to show up at work like a Spartan Part 1

Bettany goes into great detail on how the Spartans greatly differed from their surrounding Greek city-states. One of the reasons Sparta was looked down upon, misunderstood, feared, loved, and an object of fascination was its sexual politics. Sparta was unique in that it was the first ancient Greek city-state, and thus the first place anywhere in the world, to create the idea of the citizen. And unlike other places that adopted the idea, Spartan men and women were both citizens, with women enjoying rights and privileges far beyond any other ancient society - in fact anywhere until modern times. But the roles of men and women in Sparta were also designed to play to the different strengths of each gender in order to serve Sparta’s goal: Creating the ultimate warriors.

I’ll share some of the highlights of what I found so inspiring about the way this city-state was run and how I see them as a great example for a modern day company - let’s call it SparTech.

SparTech has this amazing product called the ultimate warrior. Like all companies, the product is just one of the many operations and departments required to keep this well-oiled machine running. There is the supplies and repairs department. There is the marketplace in which secondary goods and services are sold to nourish the company as well as provide an additional steady income during the quiet times of security the ultimate warriors provide.

 

What made Sparta so different from all of the other city states of ancient Greece was the attitude toward the role of women.

This was because in order to produce the ultimate warrior you need the ultimate woman to give birth to him. So women were given equal rations of food and exercise because healthy fit women can produce the healthiest and fittest babies. At modern day SparTech would have the kitchenette always full of fine teas, coffee, and fresh fruit for all.

Instead of keeping women confined to the home like most ancient societies, Sparta made sure its women were in top physical condition. This did not mean something like yoga classes for women and weight training for men. Both men and women were trained in dance, horseback riding, fighting, and javelin throwing; so any self-respecting SparTech would make sure to have free gym memberships for its employees and encourage women to be in great shape.

Most ancient societies flatly refused to give women even the most elementary schooling. But the women of Sparta were taught reading, writing, and mathematics, as well as cultural topics like music, dance, and poetry. Modern day SparTech would pay full tuition for classes in ‘Java Code’ and ‘How to Write Effective Business E-mails.’

Maybe the most striking thing that set Sparta apart in its treatment of women was that most ancient societies didn’t allow women to even speak in public. In Sparta, women didn’t just speak out, they were encouraged to do so. Queen Gorgo of Sparta was once famously asked why Spartan women were permitted to speak among men. She said it was because “only Spartan women give birth to real men.” The women of Sparta had a voice in all levels of society. They could own land and property. They had a say in politics as well. There is the story of a young Spartan girl who advised her father against a bribe and later in life aided Spartan generals in decoding a warning about the invasion of Greece by Persian empire.

For modern day SparTech, this would mean giving women a voice at all levels. I know what you're going to say: Women already have a voice in today’s business world. Maybe it seems like that from a distance, but up close, not so much. Yes, women are allowed to speak, for example, at meetings. But I have sat in on meetings where my title at the company was that of higher management, yet I was treated merely as a glorified secretary there to take notes. I would voice my opinions at points where I felt they were crucial and always seemed to get the feeling that not a single word was heard or even contemplated for a second, and that the default response was to belittle my thoughts. And I have heard countless other women say that during meetings they were never asked their opinion, and so never got to express it,  or if they spoke up on their own they were quickly cut off. I’m not going to get into why I believe this is happening. That is a topic for another day.

But let’s ask ourselves: WWTSD? What Would the Spartans Do?

Well first, they’d probably get an army of women together and conquer the place, but let’s set that aside for a minute.

 

Taking Sparta as an example, we can see two major results of their system: It provided equal opportunity and equal privileges and rights to both men and women. But it also valued the different, unique, and important strengths both genders brought to the table in order to achieve the greater good for all.

SparTech should operate according to these two basic principles in order to achieve success.

Now that we have the highlights of how Spartan society was structured and what made it unique in regards to the role of women in the ancient world, stay tuned next week as we explore what lessons we can learn from them in how we as individuals show up to work each day.

Till then give your greatest warrior grunt in the comments below, plus a story of a time you enjoyed a similar privilege or felt like a true warrior. Also, share a story of someone who inspires you and you believe is a true Spartan.

This! Is! SparTech!