Leadership Fail: Ipse Dixit


M-T-CiceroAs a parent I have resisted using the phrase, because I said so. But, like many things in life, it seems inevitable that I would lean on this form of logic to persuade my own children. Some things prove to difficult to understand for my four year old daughter; the only thing left the argument of ipse dixit.  I came across this latin phrase in a biography of Douglas MacArthur. It is said that the General often won arguments by insisting on certain truths. The veracity of these truths depended solely on the word of the one speaking them. Basically, MacArthur resorted to leading his troops by offering the explanation: because I said so. This is the argument of ipse dixit and was first defined by the philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero. It describes an expression based on the authority of the one speaking and neglects other methods of persuasion. 

Arguing from a seat of authority may work for parents, and often worked for General MacArthur, but demonstrates a failure of leadership. Because I said so leverages the skills of a manager and not a leader. Great leaders do not have to tell people where to go; great leaders are followed.

Great leaders are followed.

If you find yourself failing to lead people with your vision then resist giving in to the trap of ipse dixit. Insisting that others do what you say is tempting, especially if you find yourself in a seat of authority. If you lead by command do not mistake the cooperation of others as a sign of your own leadership: you are a manager and have chosen to drastically impair the potential of your organization. The managed are limited by their manager and your capacity is not that great. True leaders provoke others with their vision of a destination. They are at the head of the pack and inspire a following of co-creators who are capable of generating their own momentum.

My four year old may remain unconvinced, so may your team. I accept the idea that management has its place, but we must see it for what it is. I can only manage my child for so long, soon it will be time for her to make her own decisions. At that time my ability to lead becomes essential. Her growth potential is far greater than anything I can give her directly. The same is true about your teams.

Brent Colby1 Comment