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Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus:
The Perfect Leader?

As senior recruiters we are constantly studying the idea of "leadership". We need to understand it before we can reliably see it and seeing it is a large part of our job. We spend a lot of our time judging who really has it vs. "fractionals" or outright posers. But that's just the beginning. What's frustrating is that a good "leader" can lead a company to destruction, especially if the Board isn't strong. So, in our playbook, it goes beyond who can "lead", you have to know to where that person will lead a company or army. So it's complicated. Our term "corpcraft" only begins to describe it.

However, you have to start somewhere and the past is always useful. Any serious student of leadership will tell you one of history's greatest leaders was Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. Even George Washington, clearly a great leader, partially modeled himself after Cincinnatus.

Here is the short and valuable story of Cincinnatus.

In 458 BC Rome was in danger of falling to the Aequi and Voslcians, two nearby tribes. Roman law at the time had a provision to basically draft a "dictator" in times of great peril. Rome was then a republic and had no emperor. The dictator was given absolute power for a period of 6 months. Of course, during this time the potential for the dictator to abuse his power was on everybody's mind.

Due to the imminent threat to Rome the Senate knew they needed a real leader. The group (think Board of Directors) looked around itself and, not seeing the required talent, decided to draft Cincinnatus, a former Senate member who had resigned in disgrace over something his son had done (evidently children were a problem even then). This is key. The members of the Senate knew that under similar circumstances none of them would have stepped down. They knew they needed somebody of strong character. 

The delegation found Cincinnatus at his farm. Note: The farm was the smallest size plot that would allow for Roman citizenship. Cincinnatus was literally behind a plow working the field. The delegation handed him some papers and saluted him as dictator. Cincinnatus donned a toga and they all went back to Rome.

In a short time Cincinnatus had taken over command of the army, then marched out to meet and quickly defeat the Aequi and Voslcians. He returned to Rome a hero.

But what did he do then? Rather than hang around and abuse his unlimited power he resigned and went back to plow his fields and tend to his family. The whole thing took 16 days.

It's easy to see why history points to Cincinnatus as a great leader. He was a leader in the purist sense. He did what was asked; lead Rome to a solution without regard for personal gain. And then, his job done, he simply went home.

It's easy to see why history sometimes refers to George Washington as "the American Cincinnatus". Washington too did great things then went back to his farm.

And yes, the city of Cincinnati was named after Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.


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