Effective Leadership Means Crossing the Rubicon

Blog pic 122315 CaesarWhile thinking of the 1960s most likely conjures up images of Woodstock, landing on the moon, and the Beatles, for me it brings back the memory of conjuring up verbs in Mrs. Price’s freshman Latin class. That’s right, Latin. It seems that the 60s were a time when learning a language meant knowing past perfect verb tenses as well as certain Latin inscription on campus buildings, in state mottos, or the cryptic phrases on US currency. As far as learning to speak Latin—let’s just say there’s not a Berlitz course required to bone up for your upcoming European vacation.

For me, however, there is one phrase that I remember (with help from my lifelong friend and Latin scholar Larry Lee) as surprisingly meaningful at the time: “alea iacta est,” meaning “the die is cast.”

Here’s the backstory.

Julius Caesar, a successful military leader at the time, was sent to Gaul to wage a series of battles that would result in the expansion of the Roman Empire. It seems that Caesar’s success created a rise in his stock price. His current boss, Pompeii, was not thrilled with the situation, for now he saw Caesar as a threat, not an ally. On January 10, 49 BC, as Caesar and his army stood on the banks of the Rubicon River that separated Gaul from Italy, Julius knew that crossing the river back on to Italian soil amounted to treason. If he is to avoid civil war, he must lay down his command, surrender his troops and their weapons. But if General Caesar and company cross the narrow bridge, there is no turning back. They will have entered Roman territory in a state of war.

Roll cameras.

With a burst of energy, Caesar declared, “alea iacta est” — “The die is cast.” He and his troops marched onward to Rome, and as they say, the rest is ancient history along with historical sayings that were kept alive in the hallways and Mrs. Price’s Latin classroom at Hendersonville High School circa 1961.

What crossing the Rubicon means for you as a leader

While Latin may not have the oomph it used to, the concept of crossing the Rubicon creates an important leadership dynamic that is very much alive in late 2015. Effective leadership is built on a base of personal expertise and credibility—knowing your subject area, committing and delivering value to others, building relationships and engendering trust. Yet when you move into a leadership capacity, you cross your own Rubicon, from achieving results through individual contribution to achieving results through others. Your expertise and credibility are infused in the capability you create in your team and those around you. Their ability to commit and deliver results is tied to your credibility and leadership effectiveness. There is no going it alone. Those days are over. Your die is cast.

Step up, give it up, lead with intent

From a leadership perspective, once you accept that crossing the Rubicon means you have to think and operate differently, you begin to focus on the bigger goal of building organizational capacity. You will discover that not everyone thinks as you do or approaches work as you would. You will find that letting go is often more difficult than stepping up. You realize that delegation is important for others to succeed and you to keep your head above water. In terms of the bigger picture, your value over time is your ability to shape those with whom you work into a high performance organization and to favorably shape and impact the overall enterprise. Who knew that one day in 49BC and a freshman Latin class could create a great metaphor for leadership. Alea iacta est. Pretty cool.

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