Thursday, October 17, 2013

Caesar on Leadership

In a recent post, I wrote about a leadership lesson from a simple story in our Latin I textbook.  The theme of leadership continues for our students in Latin II as they explore the war writings of Julius Caesar.

When I took a history of education class at Indiana University from Hornfay Cherng, (now at National Hsinchu University) we read Machiavelli's The Prince.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Yes, it was that Machiavelli.  To this day I have maintained it was one of the best educational texts I have ever read.  There are sound principles of leadership and classroom management to be gleaned from it.  You simply have to get past the notion of killing people.  In other words, you have to distill whatever good and valuable principles there are in the work and discard that with which you disagree, and that brings us back to Caesar.

Statistics tell me that the majority of my students will not enter military service.  A reasonable question, then, is why we would read the war commentaries of a first century B.C. general.  As with Machiavelli, Caesar shows sound leadership characteristics that can be applied in a variety of contexts.  You do not have to lead troops to benefit from his leadership.  You certainly do not have to agree with his acts of war for the purpose of conquest.  You do not need to like the guy to learn from him, and important lesson in itself for all students.

One of the passages we read each year comes from De Bello Gallico I.25. Caesar primum suo, deinde omnium ex conspectu remotis equis, ut aequato omnium periculo spem fugae tolleret, cohortatus suos proelium commisit.  "Then Caesar, with his own horse sent away first and the other horses removed from everyone's sight so that, with the danger made equal for all, he might take away any hope of retreat, encouraged the men to begin battle."

Caesar was not the kind of general to issue orders from the rear of the army.  He fought with his men.  He was not the kind of leader to command others to do something he would not.  He endured the same conditions as his soldiers.  As a result, his men loved him and were willing to follow him anywhere, even if it ultimately meant waging war on their own homeland years later.

Our students look at this from the perspective parents or coaches or bosses on the job.  We talk about how this principle could be lived out in various contexts and why the opposite, leading from behind or unwillingness to share hardship, makes for poor leadership.

What leaders, good or bad, throughout history can serve as models for leadership today, especially in education?  If you distill the valuable points and discard some of the particulars, you may find leadership models in unlikely or overlooked places.

No comments:

Post a Comment

While I welcome thoughts relevant to discussions of education, comments that are vulgar, insulting, or in any way inappropriate will be deleted.