A fascinating piece, "Campaign Tips From Cicero," in Foreign Affairs is based on a new translation of The Commentariolum Petitionis, or Little Handbook on Electioneering, purportedly a memo from Quintus Tullius Cicero to his brother Marcus telling him how to campaign for election in the Rome of 64 BC. The translation plus a commentary by American political consultant James Carville should be required reading for school heads everywhere. Unfortunately, the full text is not available without payment, but even the article summary is worth reading.
We have long believed that many newer heads fail to grasp just how political the job really is, and, as a result, end up making missteps or missing opportunities right from the first day. As in politics, one serves as head at the pleasurer of the proxy "electorate" composed of board members, faculty, parents and alumni. Quintus's sage advice can easily be adapted across the millennia and sectors.
Perhaps most striking is that much of Quintus's advice is about what Machievelli called "currying favor with the inhabitants." One of the best lines is, "my brother, you have many wonderful qualities, but those you lack you must acquire and it must appear as if you were born with them."
He goes on to encourage Marcus to:
- Have confidence--Quintus builds Marcus up with a recitation of his past successes;
- Build the base--including microtargeting of different messages to constituent groups;
- Constant campaigning--any absence during critical periods suggests that one takes voters for granted;
- Be exquisitely sensitive to who has more power than others;
- Pander and overpromise at every turn;
- Hurl smeers and spread negative rumors in the face of the same from your opponent; and
- Never forget faces and names.
While Quintus may be more cynical and calculating that most heads want to be, there is wisdom in taking to heart the idea that leaders should thing strategically about building social and political capital--what in the independent school world passes for votes--through campaign skills.