Aesop and the Follies of Followers

Leadership ethics expert, Dr. Joanne Ciulla, discusses eight Aesop’s fables that illustrate mistakes followers make about those who lead.


  • 1 June 2023, 12 pm EDT / 5:00 pm GMT

As a fabulist, person, or persona, Aesop is one of the best-known figures in the ancient world. His fables have been recited, cited, set to poetry, and retold from antiquity to today. Given the profound influence of his fables on Western and some non-Western cultures, it is not surprising that they would have something to say about the virtues and vices of leaders and followers. Ancient sources such as Herodotus tell us that Aesop was a slave, which may be why many of his fables are about power relationships, injustice, and how to select leaders. Aesop’s fables highlight the human foibles that shape the relationship between leaders and followers.

This talk focuses on eight of Aesop’s fables that illustrate mistakes followers make about those who lead. In the ancient world and today, when followers make bad choices, especially about the virtues of leaders, they can end up with demagogues, populists, or leaders who do not care about them. As Plato and others in the ancient world noticed, the problem with democracy is not the system per se but the demos or people, which is one reason why Plato, in the Crito, argues that the opinion of the wise is more important than the opinion of the many.

One might ask, why care about Aesop’s fables? Is Aesop another gimmicky way to write about leadership, like lessons on leadership from Winnie the Pooh or Atilla the Hun? No. People have repeatedly rewritten and retold Aesop’s fables for thousands of years because they see themselves in them. Aesop reminds us not to behave like his animals, and history reminds us that doing so has never turned out well for anyone.

By attending this webinar, participants will

  • Learn about Aesop and his influence on culture;
  • Reflect on the mistakes followers make when they choose whom to follow; and
  • Apply the insights of the fables to followers today.
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