This picture was taken in a gallery of the Roman Baths in Bath and shows a tombstone of an Optio in the Roman army. An Optio was a soldier chosen by the Centurion to assist with the smooth running and discipline of the 100 strong cohort. They acted as a second in command and their task was to work with the rank and file legionnaires to ensure that orders of the day were carried out. The role was a responsible one and Optios could expect to be paid twice as much as an ordinary soldier.
The picture shows the Optio holding a scroll, perhaps containing commands, and a staff. Looking at the ancient artefact I made a connection to organisational life today and wondered if 21st century middle managers are the new Optios? Their bundle of papers tucked underarm a symbol of today's orders of the day? The centuries have taken their toll on the tombstone and the head has not survived. Another link with today as so many aspects of organisational life can appear to have us running around headless.
Optios were an essential part of the Roman organisational machine, and it is interesting that they were chosen on the basis of trust. Optio is formed from the Latin word optare meaning to choose and you can see here the origins of the word options or choices. It struck me that many organisations these days are opting to remove the role of middlemanagers. Some contend that modern business systems and technology ensure that communication is effective and staff are well briefed on organisational expectations. Well, perhaps we still have a way to go. Meantime, we might reflect on the artefact's message. It is this; Optios were chosen on the basis of trust.
Stephen Covey deals with trust and trustworthiness in his Principle Centred Leadership where he makes the point that we must strive to become trustworthy so that we can be trusted. This in turn leads to empowerment and alignment. It seems to me that today's middle leaders should manage the business of trust.
Trust: a valuable attribute in any organisation and one for which the Romans did not mind paying double.