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Fighting Neptune

When it comes to leaders, I cannot help thinking about Gaius Julius Ceasar Augustus Germanicus, better known as Caligula. He was seen as the salvation after years of horrible leader, Tiberius. The people of Rome saw Caligula as their savior. His names in themselves promised a brave and successful leader.

It is said that Caligula started off well, but after two years, things were bad. He ruined state finances, killed and tortured his subjects. Of course, we don’t know how much of the stories around Caligula is true, but one of the stories which are thought worthy is the story of Caligula’s military “victories”. Carryingng all those fancy names, Caligula wanted to be seen as a great military leader. He wanted to celebrate a triumph, just like his predecessors. But the problem was that he cared less about being a great leader.

So, he went on a quest for a battle. But Caligula was not a military genius. The northern campaign had to be abandoned. According to Suetonius, the historian, Caligula had no problems claiming that he conquered both Germania and Britannica, but the prisoners displayed during the triumph were gauls, dressed as Germans and Britons.

But a mere triumph with mortal enemies was not enough. He decided to make war with the God Neptune. Having declared himself divine, he had no problems fighting this enemy. The story tells about the soldiers fighting the waves. They of course didn’t believe in Caligula’s delusions, but they all knew that questioning the ceasar meant certain death.

Today, we don’t know what is true of Suetonius story, but there are many lessons to be learnt.

Working with 7 habits, we discuss the core of a leader. A leader is not only a manager but also a person giving direction to others. I’m currently struggling with this in one of my projects. We have too many objectives, and it’s an ongoing task to describe, explain and discuss. Leadership should never be taken for granted. It’s a difficult and ongoing task.

What Caligula learns us is also that the name and the title does not make you a good leader. Yes, people tended to do what ever Caligula told them to. And for too many managers, this seems to be the essence of leadership. But what it can lead to is people fighting the waves with their swords and the celebration of false victories. A team victory should not be like the triumph of Caligula, just a show to fit his ego, based on a false history. A team victory is a victory which is felt in your bones, when you know that YOU have been part of something important and the real objective has been met.

In a couple of months, I hope my team will have that feeling; that we worked against that objective and that we reached it together. It was not easy, but it was all worth it.

Categories: Leadership Tags: ,
  1. 2009/10/07 at 7:34 pm

    Great stories about Caligula! But… I have a problem with one of your sentences:

    You write: “A leader is not only a manager but …”. I beg to differ.

    I feel very strongly that anybody can be a leader, not just managers. The slightly derogatory term is “informal leaders”, but they are, in fact, often stronger than the formal leaders, since their power is based on other people’s free will, not titles.

    In fact, I don’t even believe leadership is some kind of trait or behavioural pattern in people. That some are born leaders and other’s not. I think leadership is something that we learn and _do_. Leadership is the collective name for different kinds of activities that bring out the best in other people. For example, helping them solve their problems, become more productive, or even better human beings.

    If you’re interested in what I wrote, my best tip is to choose “Becoming a Technical Leader” by Jerry Weinberg as your next book. 🙂

  2. Anna Forss
    2009/10/07 at 7:48 pm

    Oh, you misunderstood me, and I can see why. What I’m trying to say is that some managers think they are leaders because they are managers. But as you say, that is not always the case.

    What I love about self organizing teams of agile software development is that everyone can be a leader. Informal, perhaps, but I would call it factual.

    No, leadership is not a trait but a relationship. What we call natural leaders are the obvious, visible leaders but there are also the leaders which we perhaps does not recognize as such but when we think back, we realize that they were leaders. The guy who everyone turned to with deployment issues, the gal who could help you out when it came to forming that test which you were struggling with.

    As a product owner and team member, I want to see that leader in each and everyone of my team. See what they can bring to the soup. Yes, the synergy effect of the team means that the sum is greater than the individual parts, but that is only if we use the skills and leadership in everyone.

  3. 2009/10/13 at 6:21 am

    Aha, well, then I misunderstood. I agree with you. Just remember that leadership comes in many forms. Including stepping back and being quite for a change if the group needs this at a certain point.

    Thanks for taking the time to clarify.

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