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Cicero’s actions spoke louder than words

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in Leaders & Managers

The great Roman orator Cicero is known for his amazing speeches. He’s not so well known as a provincial governor who bucked the prevailing custom of plundering local resources and abusing the locals, insisting instead on clean government.
Here are some of Cicero’s high points as a leader, complete with modern lessons for you:

  • He stopped his predecessor’s habit of extortion. Modern lesson: Illegal and unethical behavior will come back to bite you in the form of whistle-blowing, grudging performance and turnover.
  • He tried to ensure that no provincial spent money to entertain him or his staff. Modern lesson: Some “leaders” expect their people to give them gifts at birthdays and holidays. If that’s your practice, end it.
  • He opened his house to local people, where he offered modest hospitality. Modern lesson: Share your life and your home with your associates. 
  • He didn’t hire a gatekeeper to deter visitors. Modern lesson: Don’t wrap your office in razor wire; provide access. 
  • He held his temper in public and used care not to inflict insulting punishments. Modern lesson: Never humiliate your people in public, in e-mail, in private conversations or over speakerphones. |
  • He avoided traditional brutalities such as beating offenders with rods or stripping them of their clothes. Modern lesson: Never abuse your power through harassment or intimidation. 
  • He readied himself at dawn to greet locals who came to pay their respects. Modern lesson: Show your respect, too. Start and end meetings on time, read employees’ reports and come to meetings prepared.

 Cicero’s behavior exerted a wonderful effect on local opinion, and he made sure the folks back home heard about it. He was keenly aware of how much bad government had damaged Rome, and he meant to lead by example.

— Adapted from Cicero, Anthony Everitt, Random House.

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