Leadership Principle #33: The humble dictator is ruthlessly effective, though surprisingly merciful. “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” – Mic 6:8 (NIV)
In sixth-century BC Rome, a farmer named Cincinnatus quietly tended his fields. Everyone knew of his prowess on the battlefield, but he wouldn’t shirk his responsibility to feed his family.
When the Roman Senate begged him to accept a military dictatorship in order to defend the city, he finally acquiesced. After his victory over the invading tribes, Cincinnatus handed the mantle of power back to the senate and headed home.
In later years they asked him to leave his modest life again to fight off a revolt, and when this second dictatorship drew to a close, he eagerly returned to his family again. He is considered one of Rome’s greatest leaders because of his selfless service, unlike most of the rulers that followed.
More than two millennia later, another farmer named George Washington retired from a decorated career in the French and Indian War. Weary in body and spirit, he relished the solitude and peace awaiting him at his plantation.
But when Congress came knocking, he reluctantly accepted supreme command of the Continental Army to defend his fledgling country from the British. After six bloody years, Washington victoriously rode home to Mount Vernon, looking forward to resuming his quiet life.
But soon the country headed toward another disaster. Its weak government could not overcome the civil uprisings. Washington left retirement to help create the new Constitution. He couldn’t escape the unanimous congressional vote that bestowed upon him the first presidency of the United States. After his second term, he finally returned home again, where he died three years later in 1799.
Washington and Cincinnatus shared more than similar life stories. In 1783, after the Revolution, a group of former military officers created the Society of the Cincinnati (which later inspired the name of the Ohio city). Its slogan was Omnia relinquit servare rempublicam – “He relinquished everything to serve the Republic.” The group’s first president general was, of course, George Washington.
How do you handle the call of leadership? Do you balance a humble heart with an iron fist like these leaders did?
Micah tells us humility and mercy are required, but the call of justice often requires a heavy hand on the battlefield.
Tom Harper is president of Networld Media Group, a publisher of online trade journals and events for the banking, retail, restaurant and church leadership markets. He is the author of Leading from the Lions' Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible (B&H).