An ILA Leadership Perspectives Webinar

Aesop and the Follies of Followers

Red Fox


With Dr. Joanne Ciulla and Moderator Dr. Brent Cusher 

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

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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.
Joanne B. Ciulla

Joanne B. Ciulla is a pioneer in the field of leadership ethics. Her research focuses on the ethical challenges of leadership. She has also written extensively on topics in business ethics such as meaningful work. Before joining RBS, she held the Coston Family Chair in Leadership and Ethics at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies (University of Richmond), where she was one of the school’s founders. Jepson was the first degree-granting liberal arts school of its kind in the world.

Ciulla has held academic appointments at Harvard Business School, The Wharton School, LaSalle University. Her visiting positions include the UNESCO chair in Leadership Studies at the United Nations International Leadership Academy (Jordan), the Gourley Professor of Business Ethics, University of Melbourne (Australia) and visiting professorships at the University of Fort Hare (South Africa), Nyenrode Business School (Netherlands), Oxford University (Green College), and the Harvard’s Kennedy School. She has also been a Fulbright Specialist.

For her scholarship, Ciulla has received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the International Leadership Association, The Society for Business Ethics, and the Network of Leadership Scholars at the Academy of Management. In addition, she is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award for Service to the field of business ethics from the Society for Business Ethics, a Master Teacher Award from The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University, an Outstanding Faculty Award from the Virginia State Council of Higher Education, and a Distinguished Educator Award from the University of Richmond.

Ciulla sits on the editorial boards of The Business Ethics Quarterly, The Leadership Quarterly, and Leadership and edits the New Horizons in Leadership Studies Series (Edward Elgar), one of the largest collections of books from the humanities and the social sciences on leadership. She has served as president of The Society for Business Ethics and The International Society for Business, Ethics, and Economics. In addition, Ciulla has also worked with the Aspen Institute, The Brookings Institution, and the World Economic Forum. She has been an expert witness, consulted and given lectures and seminars to business, government, and non-profit organizations worldwide.

Learn more at

Brent Cusher, 2023

Moderator Brent Cusher, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Leadership and American Studies at Christopher Newport University, where he teaches courses in the Leadership Studies and Honors programs. His teaching and research interests are on the intersection of leadership and the history of political philosophy, specifically focusing on models of leadership in classical Greek philosophy. His work can be found in the Journal of Politics, the Journal of Leadership EducationLaw, Culture, and the Humanities, and The Political Science Reviewer. He has held appointments at Carleton College, Rhodes College, and the University of Alaska (Anchorage).  He is co-author of Philosophy and Leadership (Routledge, 2021) with Mark Menaldo and co-editor with Menaldo of Leadership and the Unmasking of Authenticity: The Philosophy of Self-Knowledge and Deception (Edward Elgar, 2018). 

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