Leadership: Caesar or Machiavelli?

There comes a time in your career when you must decide what sort of role you will occupy in your company or agency. Will you be worker bee, one who focuses on the tasks at hand and keeps the wheels turning? Will you be a bean counter, making sure all the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed? Will you be the friendly face of customer service, or the techie who saves each day for the technically challenged? Will you be a leader?

I hadn’t thought much about leadership, other than being a role model for children. And I was always aware of my behavior when in uniform and serving as a representative for my agency. But that was about it.

Then one day, I became a supervisor. At first I was the team lead – sort of a go-between for the staff and the head manager. Two years later, I was ready to grab the reins and go solo. I don’t know if it was age, experience, or all the history I’d been reading, but somehow I found myself considering what sort of supervisor I wanted to be.

Though I hadn’t yet read it, I’d heard an awful lot about Machiavelli and The Prince. I wasn’t so sure that an authoritarian approach was what I wanted – after all, it didn’t work when my parents tried it on me! Leading through fear and cruelty just seemed like a bad idea, especially in a workplace where stress and low morale were rampant problems.

I considered instead a documentary I’d recently seen about Julius Caesar. It explained that a key element of his success was the loyalty of his troops – loyalty he earned by showing them respect. Rather than sit in his warm, well-outfitted tent after battle, Caesar walked among his troops, greeting each man by name and knowing something about each one. He fought alongside his men and showed that he was one of them, not some precious ruler on a shining pedestal. A soldier’s life was far from glamorous and was often grueling, yet Caesar could inspire his men to carry on. For such acts, he won loyalty to such an extent that he was able to become ruler of all Rome.

I decided that was the path for me. I would inspire my staff to do their jobs well by letting them know I cared, that I understood their concerns and hardships, that I had been in the trenches myself. I didn’t realize it then, but this was my first step towards leadership.

That particular experiment in leadership met with mixed success. I think perhaps if I’d had a little more wisdom under my belt, and maybe a few more years in age, it would have been better. Still, it wasn’t bad for a first attempt. And I do believe the staff was more responsive to me than to other supervisory figures, which counts for something.

A lot has happened in the years since. In addition to professional development, it has been a period of intense personal growth – becoming a parent, practicing mindfulness, and realizing my responsibilities as a member of my community (both local and global). I have realized that leadership isn’t just about being a good supervisor or occupying a particular position on an organizational chart. It’s about what kind of person you are.

I have recently become enamored of a Gandhi quote: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I discovered it at a time when I had been implementing that exact sentiment – making my walk match my talk more closely. I began biking to work and composting and looking into solar options for my house, etc., which is all fine and dandy. But the real lesson is this: the quote represents the true nature of leadership – it’s a state of being, not a job title.

And that’s what Caesar had going on. So whether you are a worker bee, a bean counter, or in an actual position of leadership, be the change you want to see. Live it, breathe it, create the reality you want. People are attracted to that kind of idealism and will be inspired to follow your example.

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Your article was well written and touched me as being profound. You are correct when you state, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” You (and I) cannot change anyone else but ourselves thereby causing others to react to you (or me)differently. I will take your words and meaning and think on them some more tonight. Thanks for a great commentary. Take care and keep on keeping on.


Linda, I’m glad you found something of value in the post, and I appreciate your kind words. I hope you do take the opportunity to ponder them, let them soak into your subconscious. I have found that that’s when I learn the most — when I don’t focus on it too directly but rather let it run in the background.

Additionally, your post inspired me to write a Part 2 to the post – coming soon!

Oscar Torres

I have the quote in front of my monitor at work and read it daily before I start my work day. As a Marine, I learned about leading by example, but the quote seems to impact and inspire people immediately.


I recently had the quote translated into sanskrit, and plan to turn it into a tattoo. Since people always ask what tats mean, I’ll have many opportunities to spread the word!

Kitty Wooley

Right on, GeekChick! The candor that you bring to “leading by example,” over the life of your career, will help us all. And kudos for having been willing to try out a supervisory role, which is harder in government. I find myself wondering if there are more specific lessons learned that you’d be willing to share with people who are developing new supervisors – are there?


There probably are! Maybe that’s the subject for another blog post! If anyone wants to send me some questions, feel free! I will try to think up some good examples and write up another post. If you, Kitty, have any specific scenarios you’d like me to address, let me know!