Whether you perceive the latest controversy surrounding our incoming president as a crisis, as the New York Times headline proclaimed, or just another effort by the liberal elite to take him down, one thing is sure: We're in a very different world than we were a year ago. And the next four years promise to be filled with headline-grabbing intrigue. We've gone from heels-dug-in gridlock to riding The Beast, and to say it's unsettling is a major understatement.
I'd rather take the Way-Back Machine.
In Roman times, this level of political turmoil was business as usual, if ancient accounts are to be believed. That's a very big "if," of course. But even if details were exaggerated -- maybe Caligula didn't really plan to appoint his favorite horse as consul -- tales of long-ago plots and power struggles can be full of useful lessons for modern leaders and those who seek to destroy them. And those same lessons can apply to both the political and the business world. Take the story of the Roman emperor Claudius.
Claudius ruled for 13 years, which was a pretty good run for first-century Rome. But poor Claudius suffered from a bad rap at the hands of one of the less reliable Roman chroniclers, who portrayed him as having a debilitating stutter, a chronic limp and other physical deformities that to the ancients were indications of a weak mind, too. This reputation dogged the guy until the 1930s, when the novelist and respected scholar Robert Graves came to his defense.
In two historical novels written as if by Claudius himself, Graves painted a different picture of the emperor: as a perceptive man who managed to outlast many of his kith and kin (the first-century measure of success) largely because they expected so little of him.
I first read "I, Claudius" when I was in the 6th grade. Though not too young to appreciate the quality of its writing, I never imagined that someday its message might resonate with my own experience in business. Just a few weeks ago I came across the book again, and now I, like Claudius, understand there's real value in being underestimated. I can appreciate that our company owes much of its early success to the fact that lots of people -- from family members, to people who sold us our original patents, to various competitors -- thought we'd never make it. People wrote us off because they assumed they knew more, or offered more, or were bigger and somehow better than us, and we managed to prove them all wrong. There's a real advantage to being underestimated.
And on the flip side, there are real risks in underestimating others.
Our next president may well be the polar opposite of Claudius -- it's likely he would have succumbed to a knife in the back if he'd erected a Trumpum Colosseum. Yet he's now achieved the highest of heights, thanks largely to being underestimated; it's safe to say he knows it and knows enough to take advantage of it.
Trump's opponents -- and much of the media -- may hold him in low esteem, but they shouldn't underestimate him. And before jumping on every allegation bandwagon, they should make sure it has sturdy wheels.