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A Lesson For All Leaders


When we consider the Ides of March, some may recall that it was a holiday celebrated in ancient Rome. More likely, we remember it as the fateful day when Julius Caesar, one of history’s most accomplished conquerors, fell. Moments like this should give leaders pause and challenge us to think about where we are in our own leadership journeys. Am I making the right decisions? Am I steering the organization down the best path, or my path? What can I do to embrace change, and lead from the front?

I have written before how today’s leaders can benefit from a contrarian viewpoint that embraces the principles of thinking gray. Now, as we reflect upon the Ides of March, we must take stock of not only the day’s symbolism, but also what it means for our own organizations.

What can we learn from Caesar?

At IC Catholic Prep in Elmhurst, Illinois, March is a critical month. Budgets are being formulated, incoming freshmen are beginning to register, spring break is near, and graduation plans are being made. None of these things happen without incredible staff, successful leadership, and an unbelievable amount of teamwork. However, as the Ides of March approach, we are reminded that success is fleeting—and can often come to a violent halt. What lessons can we take from the fall of Caeser and how can we apply those to our own organizations?

1. Leaders respect those around them.

Today’s organizational leader knows that it’s lonely at the top. Yet it doesn’t always have to be. The future of successful organizations lies in the idea that we don’t need to be modern-day conquerors or autocrats to yield success. Recognizing the dignity of our stakeholders is paramount to organizational accomplishment. Of course, this doesn’t mean a leadership free-for-all, but instead one focused on leadership empowerment. As a leader, there is no greater feeling than watching your organization run smoothly without the need for hyper-focused supervision.

Ides of March Approach: Consider recognizing the role respect plays in organizational success.

2. Leaders think gray.

As often as I talk about the pitfalls of binary thinking, I understand that conventional wisdom will always try to categorize decisions into good or bad, yes or no, correct or incorrect. Perhaps there is a time and place for that, but for leaders looking to hone the contrarian craft, we know we must think more freely than this. As a dictator, Caesar refused to “think outside the box” and instead led highhandedly and without imagination. Leaders today should recognize the role that their own prejudices and passions have and how they get in the way of their decision-making.

Ides of March Approach: Try suspending your own beliefs, and open your mind to thinking gray.

3. Leaders give the devils their due.

As a conqueror, Caesar was as successful as any one person could be. However, as a leader, he is now a case study in failure of most epic proportion. We must recognize as leaders that although we may have personal success and be at the top, the work is never over. As contrarian leaders, we must recognize that there are individuals within our organizations that might have a better idea than we do. Or a better plan for a series of events. These individuals should not be thought of as threats, but rather as opportunities. Sometimes, a person we least expect deserves significant recognition for their contributions.

Ides of March Approach: Be prepared to give credit where you may never have thought to do so.

Challenge yourself to help others challenge themselves.

Leadership is full of examples of great rises and more epic falls. This is the nature of humanity. This, too, is often the experience of almost every organization. Today’s organizations are full of stakeholders with an abundance of skill, talent, and passion. Their focus on not only doing well, but on doing good is what makes this such a challenge for leaders. Will you help your stakeholders challenge themselves to create personal and professional success by tapping into unknown greatness? Or will you stifle their ability to become change agents and lead them with a heavy hand?

Let us look to history, and “Beware the Ides of March.”

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