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    Books & Reading, Educational Philosophy, Other Thoughts

    Real Leaders Get Buy-In (Plutarch Commentaries)

    February 22, 2021 by Brandy Vencel

    Like so many generals before and after him, Julius Caesar had to deal with men who became fearful of the coming fight. For Caesar, these were “young gentlemen of the nobles houses of Rome.” When they began to follow Caesar, they went for the fun of it. They thought they would likely benefit from the plunder. My guess is they were bored in the way peculiar to rich young men and this opportunity seemed a fun adventure right up until the moment it got dangerous.

    Then, Plutarch tells us, they “trembled for fear.”

    This sort of thing happens. Leaders are always faced with people who don’t want to follow them. It can be fear, sure. That’s what happens in war. But there can be other reasons. Heck, three-year-olds are known to dig their heels in just for kicks.

    The question of leadership isn’t what to do if your followers don’t like the way you’re headed; it’s what to do when this happens — because it happens to everyone eventually.

    Now, you might not think of yourself as a leader, but most everyone is a leader at some point. It may be that the only thing you lead is your own tiny homeschool. That still counts.

    Which means Julius Caesar has something to say you.

    There are many ways to manipulate your followers.

    What is manipulation? The Good Therapy blog defines it thus:

    the practice of using indirect tactics to control behavior, emotions, and relationships.

    I’ve read enough stories of generals and other military leaders to know that a common response of generals to this sort of situation is to threaten the men. Usually they make it clear that the penalty for running and desertion is death. There might be a great show in the form of increasing the volume (shouting is apparently more persuasive), or maybe using the instrument of future death and punishment as a visual aid (swinging around the guns used by the firing squad, for example).

    Fear is a form of manipulation. As a leader, you want — need — certain behaviors from your followers. Fear can feel like a short-cut. You get what you want in a relatively short space of time. When war is coming upon you, this can seem a promising approach.

    There is a reason why, in Charlotte Mason’s fifth principle, she puts limits on authority. She forbids all forms of manipulation:

    These … are limited by the respect due to the personality of children which may not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.

    Philosophy of Education, p. 80

    As you can see, fear is part of a longer list. We can use many different tools to try and get what we want out of people. Miss Mason’s list isn’t even exhaustive; it’s just a sampling. The point isn’t what is or isn’t on the list; the point is that it’s a big temptation for leaders to try and circumvent the will of their followers to get the behavior they want. The more urgent the need for this behavior, the more tempted we’re going to be.

    Manipulation can seem like the perfect means to our desired ends. When I taught this part of Life of Julius Caesar to my students, though, they had some interesting thoughts on the effects of making threats. They speculated that maybe the soldiers would be less fit for war that way. If soldiers only went to battle because they’d be killed if they didn’t, they’d be less likely (so my students thought) to be brave and do mighty acts. They might hang back; their one goal might be self-preservation (rather than victory).

    Fear might have been a way to get the army moving toward battle, but it wasn’t the way to get good soldiers. Even my elementary students could see this.

    Good leaders enlist the will.

    Caesar was a great leader. Plutarch tells us elsewhere that his men wanted to follow him. He had the ability to take average men and get great and wonderful deeds out of them. Caesar made his followers better than they naturally were; he called valor out of them and they responded with brave and noble feats.

    So when the young noblemen got cold feet, Caesar gave them a rousing speech and also a choice:

    [Caesar] called them to council, and commanded them that were afraid, that they should depart home, and not put themselves in danger against their wills, [since] they had such womanish faint hearts to shrink when he had need of them.

    Life of Julius Caesar, p. 22

    Okay, okay, so maybe there was a little bit of manipulation in there when he accused them of being womanish. I concede this point.

    Ultimately, though, Caesar gave these men a choice. They could come with Caesar into battle, or they could head home. They were free to do either.

    Caesar goes on:

    And for himself, he said, he would set upon the barbarous people, [even if] he had left him but the Tenth Legion only, saying that the enemies were no valianter than the Cimbrin had been, nor that he [Caesar] was a captain inferior unto Marius.

    Life of Julius Caesar, p. 22

    Caesar explains his choice. He’s not going to hang back in fear. He’ll go with only the Tenth Legion (my class got a good laugh out of the aftermath, when the Tenth Legion sent their lieutenants to Caesar to thank him for the high compliment — they were honored to be held up as an example of those who would not shrink with fear). Caesar reaches back into history. The Romans had fought and won against the Cimbrin under the leadership of Marius. Caesar declares two truths: their current enemies aren’t any scarier than the Cimbrin were, and he’s not any worse a leader than Marius was. Or to restate Caesar’s case: if we could win under Marius against people like this, we can win again under me. It’s already in the bag.

    What is Caesar doing? He gives his men a choice and he encourages them to make the right one. Leaving your followers in cowardice and fear is never a good decision, so Caesar’s speech hits exactly the right tone: I am a man, I’m going even if only with the Tenth Legion, and I have confidence because we’ve won battles like this before.

    Caesar makes them want to follow. And they do. When Caesar marches off with the Tenth Legion, the others follow suit:

    [T]he … legions fell out with the captains, and all of them together followed [Caesar] many days’ journey with good will to serve him …

    Life of Julius Caesar, p. 22

    That, my friends, is the power of free will. The soldiers not only followed Caesar, they followed him “with good will to serve him.”

    Enlisting the will is capturing the heart.

    We mothers can overlook this power. We tell the children it is going to be this way, and we threaten or manipulate to get this to be true, and when we do this we don’t enlist the will, therefore their hearts are not in it.

    This is tricky. We cannot actually control the will or the heart. Don’t we all know those children in very strict homes who are just biding their time until they turn 18? They may look obedient on the outside, but inside they are only longing for escape.

    They are not following with good will. It’s all a sham, and time will tell the truth out loud.

    I’m not saying that if we do all of this, then we will have their hearts — that we’ll get what we truly want from them if we just use these different techniques over here.

    I’m simply saying this is how people work. You can threaten in a way that gets them to follow you into battle, but the second they can get away from you, they will. If they are following out of fear, they will abandon their general and his great cause when given the chance because they were never really in the war to begin with.

    Let’s take a small example: habit training. If a child has a bad habit and I as mother am seeking to help him change it, I am skipping the important first step if I waltz into the room and lay down the law. Charlotte Mason herself said that step one in this sort of habit training is to enlist the will.

    If, rather, we sit down with the child and say, I have noticed that you have a bad habit of doing X. Do you understand why I would call this a bad habit? and have a good conversation about why it is bad, we are starting from the right place. From this point, we are no longer imposing a new replacement habit upon the child from outside his will, rather he has bought into the notion that the habit is “bad” — he knows it needs to go — and he and Mother can be on the same team and come up with a strategy to fight the battle and form the new and better habit.

    This is subtle and delicate yet so much better. It’s worth trying to grab hold of. Good leaders do not want grudging followers. We want, with Caesar, to have our men following us with a good will.

    As mothers, we are temporary leaders. We will hand our children off to others, most importantly the great God who made them. If they have been in the war for real the whole time, the transfer from our authority to that greater Authority should be much more natural. And if we fall in the battle, we can have great hope they will continue to fight for victory when we are gone.

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