We see all too often examples of business and political leaders who have achieved success in business or politics but have evident and clear character flaws. Unfortunately, these leaders are sometimes overly romanticized by the media or popular culture, so that young aspiring leaders may be inclined to overlook their own tendencies towards weakness of character with the idea that their success and legacy might be untainted, or perhaps even accentuated by their addictions, infidelities, excesses and moments of dishonesty.
I would urge those young leaders to look at a leader and philosopher whose legacy, writings and wisdom are still widely read and studied over two millennia after his death. Take note of this commentary on Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius by Roman historian Herodian:
“He was concerned with all aspects of excellence, and in his love of ancient literature he was second to no man, Roman or Greek; this is evident from all his saying and writings which have come down to us. To his subjects he revealed himself as a mild and moderate emperor; he gave audience to this who asked for it and forbade his bodyguard to drive off those who happened to meet him. Alone of all the emperors, he gave proof of his learning not by mere words, or knowledge or philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life. His reign thus produced a very large number of intelligent people, for subjects like to imitate the example set by their ruler.”
The flawed leader who excels at their craft but fails in character will create less talented people, a less cohesive culture, and less of a legacy than the leader who strives to continually improve their own character and, as a direct result, excels in business or politics. Marcus Aurelius’ legacy clearly demonstrates the legacy that can be left from leading a life built upon good character.