No doubt classic literature is a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. What often surprises me is how relevant and topical old classics still are, and how much they can still teach…on leadership as well.
After spending my core teenage years in Italy studying Greek and Latin literature six days a week, no wonder that ancient classics have intensely infused my philosophy of life. And I am always pleased when I realize that they can still speak to the world.
On 24 and 25 February, Italy will go to the polls to elect a new government. This vote comes at a very critical time for a country in deep recession and with high unemployment rates. The newly elected leaders will need to show courageous leadership and ambitious plans for guiding the country out of the socioeconomic crisis it currently finds itself in.
A look back at the roots of Italian culture and origins of the Italian political system can bring us to a time where the hunting for votes and ars oratoria of Roman leaders pivoted around noble values, the nurturing of the res publica (the common good) and philosophical thinking. Not that the Romans were exempted from political games, subtle alliances and secret complots, but the history of Latin political thought is full of eminent politicians and philosophers, whose thinking and writings can still provide some deep inspiration to today’s Italian political class.
Marcus Tullius Cicero is in my view the thought leader who has mostly contributed to the formation of the Latin political thought, and the author, whose works and statements Italian politicians should more often remind themselves of. Here are five pieces of leadership advice à la Cicero, which I personally find very topical and compelling:
1. Deliver on promises.
“Advice is judged by results, not by intentions”.
Let’s face it, in a country where legislatures have an average duration of three years and 10 months –instead of the statutory five years defined by Constitutional law – even the most zealous politician will find it difficult to implement any programmatic action in such a short time. Still, Italians have probably reached one of the lowest peaks in their trusting relationship with authorities and at this stage even the delivery of the smallest promise becomes critical to mend the relationship between state and electorate.
2. Bring social value back to people.
“The welfare of the people is the ultimate law – Salus populi est suprema lex”.
At a time when government spending is being cut back, each and every euro spent as public money needs to create real value to people and communities. The recent case of the €3.9 billion state loan to Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena has visibly raised the discontent among taxpayers, who are getting tired of the last decade’s trend of suboptimal allocation of their fiscal contributions.
3. Speak and lead with authority.
“No one can speak well, unless he thoroughly understands his subject – Dicere enim bene nemo potest, nisi qui prudenter intelligit”.
Six million Italians read online newspapers daily. Not a stellar number compared to other nations, but the figure has considerably increased over the course of the past years, particularly thanks to the rising penetration of mobile technologies in the country. The Italian population is therefore becoming more informed, knowledgeable and politically engaged. To get buy-in from a more sophisticated electorate, a good ars oratoria is not enough, unless it is substantiated by concrete facts, reliable statistics, credible expertise and accurate knowledge of the subjects at hand. As it is sometimes the case in labour markets, a generalist profile does not always necessarily receive a premium reward.
4. Manage the res publica in a reasonable way.
“Reason should direct and appetite obey – Appetitus rationi oboediant”.
It is always good to remember that the ultimate purpose of politics is to administer the polis, the community of citizens, by managing the common good, res publica. The power of politics can easily induce individuals in temptation, particularly in a country where, as the saying goes, “law approved, loophole found”. However, more informed and interconnected citizens together with a vibrant and alerted civil society in Italy have lately made the pursuit of self-interests from politicians, if not a less common practice, at least more visibly subject to public judgment. Forewarned is forearmed.
5. Keep a good relationship with the taxman.
“Taxes are the sinews of the state – Vectigalia nervos esse rei publicae”.
With more than 4 million households believed to submit dodgy tax returns, taxation is not a favourite subject in the country. Still, decades of unpaid taxes, substantial informal economy and lack of transparency on the use (and misuse) of public money has led Italy to where it stands today: a country that needs to consolidate its public accounts through an important increase of the taxation levels and more stringent controls. Not pleasant, but necessary. Expectations on the political class forming the new legislature include reduced corruption and a will to show the way and diligently pay its service to the fiscal authorities. In other words: a problem shared is a problem halved.
Latin is considered a dead language, but I find the quotes above as evergreen statements of virtuous citizenship and political leadership. As it is often the case in the land of fashion and history, the classics never go out of style.
Author: Silvia Magnoni is a Senior Community Manager and Global Leadership Fellow at the World Economic Forum.
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