(This post is part of my series on leadership lessons in history.)
The Roman empire promoted locals in conquered lands to trusted positions within the empire. George Washington could have never become prime minister in England. But in an earlier age he could have become a Roman senator (Peter Drucker has observed).
Because of this practice, people felt like part of the empire, not subjects. They were stakeholders rather than slaves.
The culture of inclusion was pervasive. Centuries after the fall of Rome, many people still thought of themselves as Roman citizens.
Maybe you are governing a non-profit that employs mostly volunteers. Maybe you are managing the integration of a corporate merger. In either case, you must make people feel they are vital parts of the organization. Help them to feel like citizens rather than hirelings.
Rome didn’t make people feel like citizens by claiming “people are our greatest asset.” The empire had a policy of promoting the best, regardless of geography.
When I was a consultant in Asia, I observed that British companies were sometimes more successful that their French counterparts because they hired and promoted locals. French firms often insisted that the smartest people were all French, so only French nationals could hold executive posts. I was told that it was the heritage of the two colonial eras. Top colonial posts were always occupied by French nationals, but locals could be promoted in British colonies.
Equating inclusion only with skin color is a missed opportunity. A potentially greater strategy: promoting people from diverse geographies, unrelated corporate divisions, and unconventional educational backgrounds.