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
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
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.