Cincinnatus or the Temptation of Power

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was in fact a roman senator at the turn of the 5th century B.C. The story with his exceptional two stints as dictator – an office created by the senate of Rome in case of need – are told in Livy’s History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita), book III. The motif of the strong leader who (hopefully) resists the temptation to become an autocrat, and lays the foundation for a democratic government, can be found across political philosophy, most notably when you read Macchiavelli’s Prince, about the ruthlessness of the strong leader to seize power, in conjunction to his Discorsi, about the democratic foundation of a stable republic. In the examples of self-organisation and de-centralised setups of companies, it is interesting to see that most of the successful cases depend on such a figure of Cincinnatus: Semco on Ricardo Semler, Danish Handelsbanken on Jan Wallander, Buurtzorg on Jos de Blok, Morning Star on Chris Rufer, Valve on Gabe Newell etc. If the person at the top is not a Cincinnatus, many of these efforts fail. But also in more hierarchical organisations, many examples of great bottom-up culture, and efforts, flourish because of their own figure of Cincinnatus.