Antigone is a tragedy by Sofocle written before 441 BC. Recently I had the occasion to ask myself: could this myth be applied to the 3rd century, at business level? Let’s see together if and how.The plot in a nutshell

Antigone is the Oedipus (Thebes king) daughter and sister of Ismene (female) and Polynices and Eteocles (men). When Oedipus dies, the two brothers lead opposite sides to conquer the Thebes throne. They both die, killed by each other. The new king of Thebe is Creons, that is uncle of the two brothers. He orders that his niece Eteocles, who died defending the city, is to be buried with full honors, while the body of his other niece Polynices, the invader, is left to public shame. Furthermore, Creon declares that anyone attempting to bury Polynices shall be publicly stoned to death. In defiance of Creon’s edict, Antigone buries her brother herself. When Creon discovers it, Antigone challenges Creon: his order is against the laws of the gods themselves. Enraged by Antigone’s refusal to submit to his authority, Creon declares that she will die imprisoned. Haemon, Creon’s son who was to marry Antigone, advises his father to reconsider his decision. Father and son argue. Without admitting that Haemon may be right, Creon repeats his pronouncement. After a while, Creon reconsiders his ideas and decides to bury Polynices and free Antigone. But it’s too late: Antigone has hung herself and Haemon, in desperate agony, kills himself as well. On hearing the news of her son Haemon’s death, Eurydice, the Creon’s wife, kills herself, too.

The analysis of plot

The most common interpretation of myth is that Creons is a dictator and Antigone is an heroine. It’s partially true. But it’s not the full reading of the situation.

The question is: why did the myth end up as a tragedy? I see a responsibility of both Creons and Antigone in it.

Creons, as king of Thebe, needs to take responsibility to set the rules of the polys in order to protect its community. About the principle, he’s right. About the way to do that, definitely not. Because Creons set the rules by his own, and they are wrong. He does not engage anyone else in his decisions. His decisions are affected by anger and arrogance. More: once have taken decisions, he’s not ready to reconsider them. The defence of his authority is dramatic: 3 people die for it.

What about Antigone? Antigone has strong personality and challenges the authority that the divine rules are more relevant than the rules set by Creons. She’s ready to die to bury his brother. Great. But her behavior is not effective, neither. Because she does not try to share her ideas with Creons. She directly behave what she believes in. Without looking for a different solution with Creons.

Application to business

Where is the key, in a business perspective?

Probably it’s in the way the decision making is done (Creons) and the reaction to it (Antigone).

As leader of his organization, Creons correctly sets the rules and guarantees its respect, regardless of his personal connections and relatives involved. But he takes wrong decisions based on personal feelings. He’s not open to others and neither flexible to change. Such a leader cannot generate trust.

Antigone is a sort of high potential of this organization. She has strong ideas and fights to have an impact. But she could be more strategic in her actions. It’s not with the “factive revolution” that a team player can influence its leader to see a different perspective. If you want to have an impact, you should propose yourself in a constructive way and not breaking the rules.

In this case, the entire organization loses. 3 key people in the team are out. The leader, devastated.

Such company could have quite big problems soon.

At the end, companies are made of people. The way they interact together makes the difference. All of them (leaders and team) should be open and transparent and flexible enough with each others. When ideas and contributions of everybody are valued, trust and cooperation emerge. Of course the leader must take its responsibilities. But it’s different when the team feel that they’re having an impact. On the other side, everybody should bring constructive ideas to influence positively the environment. Otherwise they risk to become toxic to the organization.

What do you think? In your organization, have you ever felt as Antigone? Were you ready to stand up for your ideas and eventually to quit? What about your behaviors? Were you trying to influence your leaders about the good of your ideas?

Or maybe are you a leader? What do you think about Creons? Under pressure are you behaving as him or differently? Are you ready to be open and flexible with your people and eventually to change your ideas?

 

Giancarlo Pozzoli,
Global Director of Wyser+Grafton practices at Gi Group