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The Secrets of Leadership are in Plain Sight

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was renowned for being one of the greatest leaders to have ever lived, known as the last of the great 5 Emperors, his dedication to the ancient philosophy of Stoicism is legendary. What made him such a great leader, however was not just the things that he did but the way in which he structured his thoughts. He learnt from the great teachers he had around him at the time. In his personal diary, meant for him alone, he documented his inner musings in the famous book (Meditations). Marcus Aurelius also learnt from another great teacher who we are still lucky to have around with us today… Mother Nature.

As with many of the philosophers of his time Marcus was able to find simple answers to complicated questions hidden in plain sight. For example, on how to live life and deal with death. “Pass through this brief patch of time in harmony with nature and come to your final resting place graceful just as a ripened olive might drop, praising the earth that nourished it and grateful to the tree that gave it growth”

Who nowadays who can look at piece of fruit on a tree and can draw such profoundly simple conclusions? You and I that’s who!

This year has been very busy with a flurry of conversations, presentations, events and meetings as companies settle back into the business of doing business. It is interesting for me to note that some of these companies have already planted their seeds and fully understand that the quality of the plant depends not only on the seed and the meteorological conditions, but on the soil in which it is planted. Importantly they understand that just as the creation of the optimum soil conditions is a continuous process so to is the commitment to creating the most fertile environment for the progress and development of their team members.

Other conversations, I have had this year clearly indicated that the seeds for 2020 were going to be planted in the unchanged soil of 2019 but with a high expectation of the produce. In other words, some of the teams were coming back to the same situation as last year but are being expected to produce better results.

I am betting on the long-term approach

At the time of writing, January 21st 2020 in Barcelona, we are experiencing “totally unprecedented extreme weather conditions” and warnings have been issued by the foreign office. Looking out of the office window it is clear to see who prepared and who didn´t. There are several companies that I have been working with over the last few years that I know have adopted the long-term approach and here is how I know:


They have a clear definition of the skills required of the members of their teams and even more importantly they invest in developing these skills. We have all had that dragging sensation when working alongside team members who you know are just not qualified for the job and no effort is begin made to address the skill deficit.


They have created a clear “code of behaviours” for their teams making it easy for people to relate to each other and to communicate on the big issues that have an impact. It also makes it easy for all parties to see when someone is not adhering to the code.


Closely linked to behaviour, they have not left the company culture to luck. This has also been carefully treated and although culture may be considered as an intangible, the results of a bad company culture are palpable and can have deep rooted effects on morale and company outputs.


How happy is your company? How do you know? Team satisfaction is one of the hardest parameters to measure, because you cannot weigh or measure it using metrics. It involves looking at relationships, trust, vulnerability, inspiration and motivation. These are emotive factors that often get left out of the workplace instead of occupying centre stage. But as Simon Sinek said in his book Infinite Game, If you put your focus on building trust in your team, then perfomance follows.

An important reason for companies to build in some systems to monitor these 4 factors is so that when the time comes to have the conversations about how to invest in their people, it easy to know where to focus and subsequently to measure improvements.

I love Marcus Aurelius´ book, Meditations, it has inspired leaders for centuries because of it´s timeless, uncanny relevance and it´s acute insights into human behaviour. Whether you take your inspiration for leadership from a cascading waterfall showing how consistency and focus can literally move mountains or from the unpredictability of nature, or from one of the greatest leaders that ever lived, the building of flexible, healthy, and motivated teams requires more than just a Christmas dinner once a year.

note: the 4 competency concept has been modified from the Kirkpatrick Model for measure effective coaching and training more info here

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