Modern-Day Business Lessons from Ancient Rome..

Julia Hanna of HBSWK points to this course at Harvard called all roads lead to Rome.

She interviews the professors taking the course:

What can MBAs learn from the Roman emperors Tiberius and Claudius? All Roads Lead to Rome, a course taught by HBS professor Frances Frei and Harvard history and classics professor Emma Dench, surfaces insights into the age-old issue of leadership.

Q: Why is ancient Rome a good lens for exploring modern leadership themes?

Dench: It’s a remote, dead society, yet larger than life, which makes it a very good way to explore huge issues like power, mortality, standards, and mercy. There’s a common humanity, yet it’s not about us directly. Often the leader in question is experiencing a life-and-death dilemma—if he doesn’t get it right, he’d be killed. It’s very, very exaggerated. We’d ask, “How is this speaking to you?” Everyone would start by acknowledging that death was not a serious daily threat for them. But then we’d hear, “I’m not going to be killed, but I could be fired by my board of directors.”

Q: Give an example from the course of how you compare and contrast contemporary and ancient texts.

Frei: In the module Not Forever, we read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s [MBA 1995] chapter in Lean In about her husband, Dave Goldberg, then his obituary and Sheryl’s reflections on his unexpected death. That comes close to Marcus Aurelius thinking about his own mortality in Meditations; Augustine’s account of his mother’s death in Confessions; an extract from the historian Polybius’s writings on witnessing a friend weep over Carthage, the enemy city he has just destroyed; and a reading from Plutarch on how his fellow Greeks should deal with not being an imperial superpower anymore.

Hmmm. Not to clear about Roman history so no comments.

But then we have made a big deal about modern economics, modern business and so on. Much of it is pretty ancient actually and was practiced ages ago.


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