“Hannibal was triumph. He embodied it as Hercules personified strength and Odysseus cunning.”

Note: The following post was written by Taylor Wells, Communications Director for On The Mark Strategies. 

Let me start by saying clearly, no, I am not talking about Hannibal Lecter, creepy cannibal villain from Silence of the Lambs. I’m talking about history’s greatest Hannibal, the Carthaginian military leader who nearly brought the Roman Republic to its knees (yes, the same Hannibal famed for crossing the frozen Alps with several dozen war elephants). As the book’s authors puts it: “Hannibal was triumph. He embodied it as Hercules personified strength and Odysseus cunning.”

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Learning to face the good with the bad and come out on top at the end is the key.

I recently finished a terrific book, Hannibal and Me: What History’ Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure. While we may be talking about a man dead for thousands of years and far more well-known for wiping out legions than leading board room discussion, the book asserts that this legendary figure offers valuable lessons for today’s business leaders.




Key points to take away include:

The importance of setting goals
Hannibal was tasked with a goal by the Carthaginian political leadership: carry war to the heart of Italy and subdue the upstart Roman Republic. He did not do so rashly or without planning. He spent time assembling men, weapons, provisions and other equipment. He took time to study the terrain of battle and choose what he thought was the best way to win. We can all do the same thing in our business lives. Speed is critical, but not at the expense of quality. Ensure you have the right equipment, training and support to get the job done. And learn as much as you can about your profession and your competitors.

Dealing with setbacks
Even a military genius like Hannibal, despite his amazing list of victories, experienced setbacks. There was dissension amongst some of his troops. Many of his war elephants died while crossing the frigid Alps. He eventually lost an eye in battle and learned to make do with one. There is a lot we can learn from his setbacks. Tenacity is one such thing. Flexibility and knowing how to work with different people is another. Doing the best you can with the resources available to you is also critical. Every day in the business world will not be a walk in the park. Learning to face the good with the bad and come out on top at the end is the key.

Facing down the odds
In virtually every battle he fought, Hannibal was the numerical underdog. He also fought the majority of his battles on the enemy’s home turf, deep inside Roman Italy. Hannibal routinely used the terrain to his own advantage and slaughtered tens of thousands of Roman legionaries. The modern business leader must also learn to face down the odds and emerge a winner. Facing a tough deadline? Does management expect a seemingly impossible production goal? Are there squabbles and interoffice politics at play that make a trying job even more difficult? Work hard to find ways to beat these odds, surprising yourself, your co-workers and your managers.

Hannibal’s war against Rome forever altered the course of world history. While he was tough, the Roman Republic was tougher and by extraordinary resiliency defeated Hannibal’s genius in a grueling war of attrition. Hunted by the Romans for years, he eventually took his own life rather than face captured. But his life’s lessons of leadership in the face of great odds and setbacks still hold true. While herding an elephant across a snowy mountain may rank as harder than meeting the deadline for your next set of reports, the elementary principles are similar enough so that modern business warriors may learn.