01 December 2016

Wisdom for the Ages

"Any fool can know.  The point is to understand."

--Albert Einstein

Leadership is not for everyone even though development programs and offerings from higher education might lead us to believe the reverse is true.  In fact, many don't want to be leaders, or qualify, even as they are nudged in that direction and away from the much needed tasks of management.   

Why is this so?

One reason is that leadership, done right, is hard work.  There may be perks and occasional glamour which come with titles, but for the most part, heavy loads, especially for prolonged periods, exact a steep price--physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Another is that people tend to function in business without having developed a philosophy of life which centers on how to live.  About knowledge, truth and the meaning of life.

Answering these and other questions would seem to be a prerequisite for someone seeking a position of responsibility.  Few there are who take time to seriously consider this particular building block of character, are aware of its importance, or know how it becomes a reality in their lives.  There aren't many corporate universities offering a "philosophy" course in their curriculum. 

That's unfortunate.  

Associating with someone clear on their purpose and that of the enterprise makes for healthy relationships and a creative work environment.

What can we learn about philosophy, with a contemporary application, from those whose wisdom transcends the ages?

In their book, The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership, M. A. Soupios and Panos Mourdoukoutas, combine philosophical discernment with the pursuit of leadership in modern times:

Rule l:  "Know thyself."  (Thales)  Understand your inner world, your bright and dark sides, your personal strengths and weaknesses.  Self-comprehension is a fundamental precondition necessary for real leadership.

Rule 2:  "Office shows the person."  (Pittacus)  The assumption of authority brings out the leader's inner world.  It reveals whether the leader has undergone a process of honest self-discovery that allows for the productive application of power. 

Rule 3:  "Nurture community in the workplace."  (Plato)  Community development and positive group sentiment are virtues leaders must nurture by providing the right support, guidance, and incentives.

Rule 4:  "Do not waste energy on things you cannot change."  (Aristophanes)  Do not waste resources and energies on things you cannot control and things you cannot change.

Rule 5: "Always embrace the truth."  (Antisthenes)  Effective leaders should always embrace the truth, always encourage candid criticism throughout the organization, be skeptical of flattering appraisals, and never let authority place a wedge between them and the truth.

Rule 6: "Let competition reveal talent." (Hesiod) While knowledgeable employees can be hired in the marketplace or recruited from within, bringing their talent out and aligning it with organizational interests requires an environment that allows employees to compete with each other in a constructive rather than a destructive way.

Rule 7: "Live life by a higher code."  (Aristotle)  Dedicate yourself to a higher standard of personal conduct; don't hold grudges and ill will toward those who offend; be ready to assist those who are in need without asking something in return; remain calm in the face of crisis; dedicate yourself to principle without compromise; earn the trust, respect and admiration, of your subordinates through your character, not through the authority conferred upon you by the corporate charter; turn authority into power.

Rule 8: "Always evaluate information with a critical eye."  (The Skeptics)  Don't rely upon old premises, assertions, and theories.  Develop a critical mindset that accepts nothing at face value, certify the credibility and usefulness of critical information, analyze the context that produces critical information and the messengers that convey it, and never rush to judgments.

Rule 9: "Never underestimate the power of personal integrity."  (Sophocles)  Always set an honorable agenda; adhere to a code of professional conduct, never try to justify dishonesty and deceit; rather fail with honor than win by cheating.

Rule 10:  "Character is destiny."  (Heraclitus)  True leadership begins within, not without.

(Buy the book.)

Do we understand?

Do you have a philosophy of life, and leadership, which explains your purpose or sense of calling?  If so, what is it?  Do those around you know your philosophy?  Is it lived out for all to see?  Does it match the values and culture of your organization? 

Psychologist Lawrence Pervin, who wrote an authoritative textbook on personality psychology, framed the matter this way: "Is there a disposition to express behavior in consistent patterns of functions across a wide range of situations?"

Where do you need to improve? 

Basic beliefs--and behavior--matter, as wisdom in exercising the mantle of leadership derives from the qualities of our moral character. 


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