Cross-Cultural Perspectives

My Big Fat Greek Legacy: Greek Philotimo and other Core Leadership Values

BY KATERINA BRITZOLAKI

Greek core values

So, I bet many people have watched the Hollywood movie “My big fat Greek wedding” and laughed along at the craziness of Greek families. Setting aside comedic elements and exaggerated features of movie-making, what can we learn about Greek values from the film? First and foremost, family is the most important thing (God is losing to family and earning second place). Then, striving to be the best you can be, never give up, be persistent, be proud of who you are and lastly, honor life in all its glory and beauty.

So how do the core values you gain by being raised in any country/culture have to do with you becoming a leader or not?

I can’t tell much about all the different cultures, but I can definitely speak for the core values that were instilled in me by being privileged to be a Greek. I was born and raised on an island at the south part of Greece, known as Crete, with a rich culture and distinctive mentality. Nowadays, my country is mainly known for its economic crisis, and historically for a strong cultural heritage, breathtaking sceneries, tasty food, ouzo and mesmerizing hospitality.

But little is known of how young Greeks are raised and what values are generally important to us. Since I was a child, I remember my mother always saying that “One’s character lies in DNA”. She is a strong believer of genetics (no wonder I ended up being a biologist). Partly she is right – everyone is born with their individual traits. The human brain is a mystery itself and genetics loves playing with the odds. However, an important factor for finalizing and eventually shaping a complete character are the core values that a person gets from their social and geographical environment.

So how are leaders shaped in Greece?

I have been a privileged child. I was lucky to be raised in the 90s and I had the chance to grow with all the innocence of my age and era. My parents have been two of the most hard working and self-driven people I have ever met. They have always had a way of showcasing that nothing is impossible and they made sure to plant this attitude in me. Since I was very young I was taught to be proud of who I am and where I come from, to be honest, to respect, to give my help unselfishly, to never give up on my dreams and constantly strive for excellence. I was raised to be a strong- minded, independent woman that will always speak her mind and will never take failure as an end-point, but as a learning process. The biggest learning though from my parents was that I need to earn my place and be resilient as nothing comes served on a plate and nothing is easy. As both tell me many times, “Good things are hard to get. That is why they are good. If they were easy no one would value them”.

In Greece, we learn from an early age that family matters the most. These are the people who constitute our core. We learn our heritage and how to represent it no matter where in the world we are. We are taught to be competent and prove at all times our worth.

However, the most important thing that Greeks are taught, or as Greeks like to say we are born with, is one thing described by a word that does not exist in any other language in the world; “Philotimo” or in Greek “Φιλότιμο”. Philotimo is not just a word though. It is a complex constellation of values. All Greeks know it even when they don’t know or have ever heard the word. Philotimo is integrated strongly in our society and existence. It is imprinted in our identity.

But what is Philotimo and why it is the drive for shaping a future leader?

Philotimo stands mainly for honor that lies within us, pure love, inconsumable motivation and respect of our heritage, legacy and values. Philotimo comes with dignity, honesty and decency. Funny thing to say, but Philotimo is measured and often tested in people. It is a major criterion to judge someone’s worth and credibility by assessing if that person has Philotimo and how much of it. It is a powerful tool of motivation since our baby steps. Philotimo is connected to major historical figures and leaders and exists in several examples of Greeks, from Ancient Greek philosophers and leaders, to the modern Greek residents of Lesbos that are becoming the biggest relief-providers in the greatest refugee crisis after World War II, even in the middle of an economic crisis in their own country. That, is Philotimo!

So, is Philotimo enough to make a leader?

Philotimo is a major drive to become a leader and it definitely is my major drive to be who I am today. However, it is not all a leader needs. It is the basis to build upon. Besides, if the foundations are weak, a building will collapse no matter what technologies are used or how much money is invested. Same applies in people. Without a strong core of values that serve as a foundation to develop yourself, how do you expect to transcend and excel?

Philotimo shapes a strong character. A person with strong values that is connected to the core. A leader with Philotimo is a passionate, compassionate, honoring and honest leader. A leader who can and will bring change under any circumstances. A leader that would be willing to sacrifice in order to defend their values, like Leonidas and the 300 Spartans in Thermopiles.

So what if someone has no Philotimo? Well, unfortunately leadership is not the only thing that the specific individual lacks. Lack of honesty, decency, dignity, respect, motivation and love would only characterize an incomplete and lost personality.

Speaking for myself I can say with certainty that my Greek background has given me the strength of character. I carry proudly my heritage and legacy wherever in the world I am. I honor the values that I have been taught and I always remember my roots, even in the darkest of times.

I do believe that the key to success in life lies in one’s heritage. Honoring our roots, respecting and defending our values are essential factors to stand up and make an impact. Besides, the beauty of this world is based on diversity and originality. No one is like you and you represent a unique culture. That itself is your key selling point and determining element.

Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I weren’t a Greek. I wouldn’t be the fighter I am if I hadn’t been raised in Greece and
I will definitely not become the leader I aspire if I stop carrying my legacy and having Philotimo.

So, how much Philotimo lies in you?


katerina Britzolaki, DUNIAKaterina Britzolaki is a researcher and young leader who believes in making an impact through actions. Originally from Greece, Katerina currently resides in Denmark where she is enrolled as a Master of Science candidate in Biomedicine at University of Southern Denmark. Katerina volunteers and works with AIESEC, a global youth-run organization whose aim is to develop leadership potential in youths. Email: Katerina.Britzolaki@aiesec.net. Website: aiesec.org and aiesec.dk


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