“I came, I saw, I conquered”. Five days into his campaign in Northern Turkey in 47BC, Julius Caesar routed the Pontic army that outnumbered him two to one and reportedly uttered the immortal phrase that has been a staple of Latin lessons and History classes ever since.
More than that though, it has been an underlying principle of leadership for the last two thousand years. Turn up, view the scene, kick ass and take the applause. Leadership has been and continues to be, “success” driven. For Caesar he was literally given a Triumph, marching through the streets of Ancient Rome parading his prisoners and treasures and lauded by the mob. From there, with the army at his back, the world was at his feet.
Modern leaders too have had their triumphs. Football teams parade on the open top bus; a direct throwback to the ancient days of Roman Empire. CEOs get a standing ovation at the shareholder meeting. Like Caesar and Empire “success” is seen as growth, expansion, triumph – factors that thrill and reward what is regarded as effective leadership. The battlefields may have changed but the principles have remained largely the same. Triumph and greatness; ancient terminologies that have dominated the airwaves through last year’s US elections – and ironically, as for Caesar, there is still a Senate involved…
Leadership has also perceived to have been, with a few notable exceptions, male driven. It seems to many to be a masculine concept. I cannot think of a single statue in London, other than for Queen Victoria or Boudicea – perhaps two of Britain’s and Britons’ greatest leaders, that depicts a female leader.
So it’s no real surprise then, half the global population are entitled to say, what a cackhanded job we seem to have made of things and why we find ourselves in the position we do today. A world where 98% of its wealth and property is owned by males. Where over 90% of the global population live in poverty and the doomsday clock to extinction is clicking down to its very last seconds. Yet our statues and triumphs would tell us otherwise, erected as they were of course, by men, for men, of men.
I’m not going Germaine Greer. I’m a man. I’m also a man who has absolutely benefitted from the misogyny. In my younger days, it was men who were earmarked for top level leadership very early on. Women, the hidden understanding, would be taking inevitable career breaks. It wasn’t until 1990 that women were no longer considered unlucky on Royal Navy ships but allowed to serve on them. As of 2012 there is even a woman captain. There is still to be a single naval battle in the history of the Royal Navy however, where women have served. Consider that for a moment.
“ Male leadership, engendered by Julius Caesar, of turning up, kicking ass and going home, hadn’t changed for millennia until perhaps the last decade, in some places. Many others are still in La La Latin land when it comes to empowering women and allowing them equal opportunities to lead.”
Which doesn’t mean it’s been all that easy either for the Beta Male. Without proper training beyond “do what I say not what I do” from their own seniors, for many men leadership and career promotion has largely been about making it up, staying employed and getting older. And to that end there’s no end of not hugely helpful role models from Wellington and Napoleon to James Bond.
A contemporary of mine at university gained the unenviable achievement of finishing last in his year at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. At the grandiose graduation banquet the Commanding Officer stood up, all whiskers and medals and proclaimed, “Young man, no fear. I for one would follow you anywhere in battle…. if only out of sheer damned curiosity!”
Talk loudly and confidently. Shout your case strongly. And lead. A forthright and hugely engendered leadership style that had hundreds of thousands of men doing exactly that – in Flanders, Passchendaele and a very long list of others.
Which is not necessarily to confirm that bad leadership is masculine. Nor is leadership even masculine or feminine. Margaret Thatcher was a woman who practiced what many felt to be ruthless masculine style leadership; over her exclusively male cabinet. A gender fluid friend recently expanded the argument, thoroughly rejecting notions of gender as factors in anything- a concept we would not have even understood a decade ago.
Seismic shifts are however, happening and embedded into law to ensure that they continue to do so. Schools can no longer beat their pupils. Parents can no longer beat their children. Violence and threat which have perhaps underpinned so much of childhood are now criminalised. As these generations grow older perhaps a mindset shift is also taking place.
Equality is becoming properly enshrined in law and more than that, effective leadership is being seen as inclusive rather than exclusive. Success factors are evolving. It is no longer profitability at all costs but more qualitative. ESG, environmental social governance, is a necessary driver for corporate behaviour.
The quality and the way in which we are led and how leaders behave, are becoming important factors of what we consider to be “performance”; an upgraded and more emotionally intelligent take on “success”.
Performance drives everything and whilst the success factors may be broader the fail factors remain pretty obvious. If profitability falls into debt consistently then the basic premise of leadership in the capitalist age is compromised. A fail is still a fail and no one likes a loser.
For many, regardless of gender, “Veni, vidi, vici” remains an important leadership philosophy.
But beware Caesar, the Ides of March….