March 15, 2013

Beware the Ides of March! But learn from it, too

BY Shirley Robinson IN Small Business 0 Comment

“Beware the Ides of March!” said the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The Ides of March, which corresponds to March 15 (today), was the day on which Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.  It’s the classic story of betrayal–Caesar’s closest friend and advisor, Brutus, was one of the main conspirators in the plot.  But another, equally important and still relevant, theme in the story, is that of the blindness caused by overconfidence.  Caesar had been warned by soothsayers to be on his guard, but he ignored that sign.  His pride angered the gods, so they allowed the plot to come together and bring him down.

Very, very demotivational
Very, very demotivational

Crucially, however, Caesar also surrounded himself by yes-men who fawned over him:  people who had to do his bidding or die.  This (as well as his own character; he was a conquerer by nature) caused him to become more and more isolated from the political realities around him.  His desire to be adored made him willfully ignorant of the dissatisfaction of the Senate with his power hogging.  He forgot that although he was the highest authority in the land, he was still a human being who needed other people to inform his judgment.  He forgot that he needed to keep his finger on the pulse of the people.  It was this that brought him down, far more than his impiety.  If Caesar had been more observant, he could have found so many ways to deal with the situation before it got out of hand.  But that would have required politicking, not just might, and that would have been unbefitting!  No one could tell him what to do, no one could make him feel vulnerable, no one could question his power.  Until they did.

This is a lesson that business leaders should never forget.  Yes, it’s great to be successful, and great to receive positive reports about the health of your company from supportive employees and customers.  Good leaders should also be confident and able to make hard and unpopular decisions when necessary.  But paying attention both to what your advisors have to say AND the often subtle ways they react to what you do is necessary if you want to stay on top.

The 17th century poet John Donne observed that “No man is an island / Entire of itself.”  This is quite a bit out of context, of course, but we have to realize that power and pride can be isolating and blinding.  In a social world even more intertwined than perhaps Donne could have imagined, strength comes in large part from connections, networks, and analysis of subtle trends that often aren’t eager to reveal themselves.

We’re not soothsayers, so we don’t have any dire warnings for today.  But do keep your eyes open; there’s a lot of information out there, and you need to know how to interpret it.  Caesar didn’t have Twitter or Facebook or even a company email account.  He just had some animal guts and his own instincts.  Don’t fall victim to the same traps he did!

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