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Leadership Lessons for the Ides of March


Image courtesy of unisonarts.org

Today is the Ides of March, and if you know your Shakespeare, you know this date is permanently tied to the tragic story of Julius Caesar, the Roman leader who famously failed to include his professional peers in his empire-building plans, and then compounded his error by ignoring clear warning signs that his decision-making was leading him to disaster.

A soothsayer famously declaimed doom for Caesar if he did not tread carefully on this date.

“Beware the Ides of March,” he warned!

Caesar’s wife (Calpurnia in the play) also tossed in omens that indicated that staying home might be prudent.

Caesar was, of course, not prudent. He considered himself the best judge of the risks under which he operated, and did not wish to appear weak in public (ego!). So he headed straight into the plot to assassinate him.

What leadership lesson do we take from this story? Shakespeare’s position would be that arrogance and assumptions based on past experiences are not your professional friends.

Our position is that Caesar was too busy pursuing power to pursue the truth, and was not a big fan of communication that counts, two key components to success in our Foundations of Excellence leadership philosophy.

  • The truth was that his actions were raising resistance from other Roman Senators whose power he was coopting. He was not bringing them along as “power partners.” He seemed to think that was not a lethal risk.
  • His was a great orator, but was not participating in real dialogue. He distained rather than engaged with those opposed to his course of action. He was not interested in making their lives better, which is a core aspect of our transformational leadership model.
  • He was empire-building, accumulating power and sidelining old allies like Brutus, who worried that Caesar was getting a big head and threatening to assume permanent status as the Roman CEO.
  • He dismissed warnings that his decisions were leading him to disaster, and took no steps to act on that market intelligence to hedge his bets, or change course to accommodate the new information.

Does this sound like “leaders” for whom you have worked? How open have your superiors or peers been to outside counsel and new information that might contradict a prevaling mindset?

Are you, yourself, guilty of such hubris? Do you value input, and judge it constructively, stress-testing it against older assumptions about market or environmental conditions?

Render unto your own Caesar advice that he or she needs to better understand the conditions in which business decisions need to be made, and couch it in terms that “praise” rather than “bury” him!


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