We talked on Monday about how Marcus Aurelius waited in the wings for twenty-three years before putting on imperial purple. Marcus was no doubt an impressive ruler, but in one sense his reign pales in comparison to Antoninus. What made Antoninus great was how great he made Marcus Aurelius.
Because that’s what leaders do.
The leadership coach Randall Stutman who has worked with nearly every major hedge fund and CEO on Wall Street, has said that after two and a half decades of studying and working with the best, he came to a simple definition of what it means to be a leader:
Leaders make people better.
That’s it. Whenever you’re acting with the intention of making something or someone better, Stutman says, you’re leading. As usual, Seneca got there first: “Happy is the man who can make others better, not merely when he is in their company, but even when he is in their thoughts!” He said, “Nobody can live happy if he cares only for himself, if he turns everything to his own benefit: you have to live for others, if you want to live for yourself.”
Isn’t that what Antoninus did? He took this raw recruit, this promising kid with potential and he shaped him into the king he became.
The question for you then is: Do you do this? Who are you making better? Where is your leadership being applied? At work, at home, in your community?
And more importantly, how are you actively working at improving this skill—the skill of making people better, investing in and working at being a better leader? Because it doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it.
As Marcus Aurelius writes in Meditations, people are our proper occupation. “[My] job is to do them good.” When we make others better, he writes elsewhere, “we perform our function.”
As we talked about the other day, leadership is a process, not a position. It’s the work of a lifetime. It’s about working to get a little bit better today than you were yesterday. Because when you do, the people around you do.
And that is a leader’s only job.
Randall Stutman is actually one of the leadership experts we talk to in one of the weekly Leadership Deep Dives in The Daily Stoic Leadership Challenge: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Leaders. We are excited to bring Randall’s insights—as well as those of military generals and pioneering businesswomen and CEOs of professional sports teams, among others—to the Daily Stoic community. If you haven’t already registered for a spot in The Daily Stoic Leadership Challenge, head over to dailystoic.com/leadershipchallenge. Registration closes in 4 days!