by John Langhorne/Tree Full of Owls

Marcus Tullius Cicero was assassinated on Dec. 7, 43 BCE. He left behind a substantive body of writing. Some years ago a colleague shared Cicero’s list of “man’s drastic mistakes.” I often review them as a reminder. As you consider your New Year’s resolutions perhaps you will reflect with me on these attributes.

The delusion that individual advancement is made by crushing others. Far too many people believe that life is a zero sum game, that they can only win if others lose and thus they must cause others to lose. Unfortunately, in an information-based society, the capacity to do this is huge. To make others fail it is only necessary to withhold vital information or fill the channels with misinformation. Start a rumor and watch it spread, unlike the children’s rhyme, words can hurt deeply.

The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected. We seem to be obsessed with problems that some predict are going to happen in 40 years. Most who have observed the prediction process conclude that predicting the future is chance. Likewise, others seem frozen in the past — what if I had done… The past can serve as a source of information for change, but rumination is for cattle. The press seems particularly adept at what is called the Chicken Little phenomenon: the sky is falling, the sky is falling. This tendency toward useless worry has two rather sad effects. First, it raises anxiety levels and most of us have more stress than we need. Second, it precludes identification and work on issues that are of significance.

Insisting that a thing is not possible because we cannot do it ourselves. Whole societies are affected by this problem. How many people believe that we have never been to the moon? In our daily lives, I also see a version of the opposite. I have a friend who seems to believe that the last thing she has read is the latest and greatest thing. Skepticism and credulousness are wellsprings of useless thought and action. Skepticism can lead to cynicism, a motivation killer and credulousness places a person at risk in a changing environment.

Refusing to set aside trivial preferences. Milton Freedman wisely said: “everyone is entitled to their opinion, but facts are facts.” Too many people seem to be unable to tell the difference. How many situations of conflict do we see where the issues are not really as important as some believe and turning to the facts would offer solutions? The lack of understanding the context of issues results in huge waste of effort and opportunity. Consider, many conflicts are titanic because the issues are trivial.

Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do. Anyone who reads history has to wonder if this characteristic is fundamental to human nature. Participative government has freed many people from many forms of mental bondage but some people and groups seem rigidly fixed in their beliefs and mean to impose them on others, often by force. Fortunately we live in a society that permits more people to get into the tent than many others, but still…

Neglecting development and refinement of the mind and not acquiring the habit of reading and study. Dare I say it, those who read widely and deeply are smarter than those who do not. I don’t believe I have ever worked with a capable manager who does not make time for deep reading and reflection. One best piece of advice is still “sleep on it.” Deep reading and reflection are necessary conditions for leadership. One wonders how much our “hurry up” technology has reduced the capacity for leadership.
“Live long and prosper.”

John Langhorne is with Langhorne Associates. He can be reached at His new book, Beyond Luck: Practical Steps to Navigate the Path from Manager to Leader, is available at