Fearless to a Fault

By Ken Chapman, Ph.D.
Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc.
Several years ago the movie, Gladiator, appeared in theaters. It told the story of a great Roman general named Maximus who served the emperor, Marcus Aurelius. During the emperor’s last days, he fought the barbarians to the north of the Roman Empire, but Maximus was betrayed by the emperor’s son, Commodus, a spoiled, cowardly politician. As a result of Commodus’ treachery, Emperor Aurelius died. His son became emperor in his place and Maximus narrowly escaped death, only to be sold into slavery and forced to live as a gladiator.
Though fictional, it is a griping story of courage and resolve, but it’s not as remarkable as the story of the real Commodus. It is true that Commodus was Marcus Aurelius’ son and heir, but unlike his fictional counterpart, he accompanied his father into battle for most of his early life. When his father died of the plague, Commodus became emperor at age nineteen. He quickly made peace with the empire’s enemies on the border and returned to Rome.
The new emperor entered the capitol as a hero and then tried to position himself as a man of the people. Much to the dismay of the ruling classes, Commodus soon began proving his courage and skill by performing in the coliseum. He killed lions, rhinoceros, and elephants. A skilled bowman, he felled numerous other animals with single shots with his bow. At one encounter, he killed one hundred leopards using one hundred javelins. It is said that the rapport that Commodus gained with the common people was remarkable. Commodus, like his movie counterpart, was a skilled warrior. Facing wild beasts eventually was not enough of a test for him. In time, he entered the arena with weapons of war and faced the finest gladiators in Rome and beat them all.
Though a brave and skilled warrior, Commodus’ character was another matter. He spent much of his time trying to impress people and proclaim his glory. He fancied himself the new “founder” of Rome, even going so far as to rename the empire after himself. He also thought of himself as a modern day Hercules. He often wore animal skins and carried the club, much like the mythological figure was reputed to have done. He also changed the Roman calendar; renaming each of the months after one of the many titles he had given himself. In time, the barbarians in the north continued to encroach on the Roman Empire’s borders while Commodus lived in its capitol and occupied himself with taxing the rich, distributing money to the poor, having senators and other political enemies executed, and reinventing himself over and over again.
The last straw for the Roman Senate and the people came when Commodus declared that he intended to accept the honor of being Counsel—the highest and most revered office in all of Rome. On the night before he was to accept the office of Counsel, after he had already dressed as a gladiator, the people closest to him drugged him and then strangled him to death. He was thirty-one years old.
Commodus seemed to have everything—position, skill, courage, power, and wealth. He had everything except a character of integrity and that’s the one thing a leader simply cannot do without. Commodus never earned the right to lead because he never mastered himself. He did not have the ability to manage his own words and behavior.

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For over 40 years Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc. has been making a measurable difference in the corporate cultures of American businesses and in the lives of their team members. KC&A’s value equation is “Committed to People, Profit, and More.”

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