COMMENT ON THIS ARTICLE BY WENDY LAMBOURNE, LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP: It always amazes me that companies would never put someone on an expensive piece of equipment without training them to use it – but are happy to put someone in charge of other people’s lives without preparing them for the task. While some people are more naturally leaders than others, developing as a leader is a process not an event. Moreover it is a process which takes place over a lifetime. Leaders stand or fall on the basis of their intent or motive. As those in leadership roles grow as leaders they develop an increasing capacity to give unconditionally. And this, one could argue, is also the purpose of life – to polish one’s own intent, not somebody else’s!
THE ARTICLE: Marcus Aurelius did not come out of the womb a leader. Nor was he an emperor ‘by blood.’ In fact, when first told he was to be king, he wept – thinking of all the bad and failed kings of history.
So how did he get from there to ‘philosopher king’? Book 1 of Meditations shows us.
In the first 10% of the book – Debts and Lessons – he thanks people who groomed him into one of history’s greatest leaders. He knew it – without his philosophy teachers and rhetoric teachers and, most importantly, his mentor, Antoninus Pius, he wouldn’t have become who he became.
The few pages of that part of the book are deceptive too, as they compress a process that took 23 years.
Yes, it was nearly a decade and a half from the time Hadrian first set in motion his plan for Marcus to one day be the Emperor of Rome that he became the Emperor of Rome.
That’s what it takes. Because leaders aren’t born. They’re made. Some of us recoil at that idea. Of course, we understand that athletes and doctors and dentists and lawyers and engineers and accountants and contractors and cooks go through a process to master their profession. But leadership? Leaders don’t do that, we think, you either got it or you don’t.
Ah, but a quick look at some of history’s great leaders is all you would need to realize that leadership is a process, not a position. The Pulitzer-prize winning historian Thomas Ricks would talk about how becoming a valiant leader was “George Washington’s work of a lifetime.”
While few of us will be plucked by someone who has charted a course for our rise to a position of leadership the way Marcus was, we all need to think of leadership as the work of our lifetime. Because we’re all leaders in one way or another—of families, of companies, of a team, of an audience, of a group of friends, of ourselves. So we could all benefit from a carefully thought-out and tested process from which to welcome, out the other side, a better leader.