As a Leader, Know Your Limitations

As a Leader, Know Your Limitations

If you are a history buff, let me recommend to you an excellent podcast that I listened to throughout the fall of 2017. It’s called ‘The History of Rome’, hosted by Mike Duncan. Duncan is really good and the entire podcast is not only educational, but also very entertaining.

I’ve been on a Rome kick for the past couple of years. You have to have a pretty incredible organization and system to dominate, control, and protect a 5th of the world's population for almost 1000 years, so naturally I’m fascinated.

But you also have to have a succession of good leaders. Though there were definitely some very poor emperors of the Roman Empire, there were also a slew of excellent ones. One of the best was Octavian, generally known as the first real Emperor.

Before he became emperor, he had to consolidate power, which was very difficult. Let’s just say there were a number of powerful, respected, and competent men who were not too eager to just let Octavian waltz to the throne, in particular a man named Marc Antony.

I’m not going to recount the whole story, but I do want to highlight one episode in the life of Octavian that illustrates the theme for this post. Octavian was, fundamentally, a politician. In this period of Roman history, there were two general routes to ultimate power: either through political means, or through military means.

Octavian was a politician. He was skilled at dealing with the various factions under Roman control, whether it was the people, foreign satellite states, or the powerful and rich Senate. But he was not very skilled in military strategy.

There’s a great phrase that my step-dad used to tell me, from a Clint Eastwood movie: ‘A man’s got to know his limitations.’

Early in the Civil War, Octavian was presented with a choice. He was in the east (modern day Balkans) when a number of generals and politicians proclaimed him emperor, and encouraged him to take military command and campaign against Marc Antony. This must have been very tempting for Octavian. He could have had armies of loyalists at his command and took a shot at ending the Civil War in one fell swoop.

Instead, he returned to Rome, knowing that he would be able to consolidate power among the senators and people before turning his attention to Antony in the East.

Octavian knew his limitations. He had no military experience. He knew that Antony was a soldier, steeped in military logistics and strategy.

If leaders don’t know their limitations, they are going to think they can do anything, or that they do not have any limitations. That is a recipe for disaster.

What are your limitations as a leader? What are your behavioral preferences and patterns? What are your motivations? What are your skills? Where are your blind spots?

Your business depends on you having this self-awareness and understanding. If you don’t know, get in touch. We’ll give you that data - it’s what we do.