Thursday, April 28, 2011
Philosophy and Leadership
According to Robert Nozick (20th century political philosopher taught at Harvard) we are rational agents endowed with self-awareness, free will, and the possibility of formulating a plan of life and carrying it out. Nozick describes individual human beings as self-owners. His thesis of self-ownership is a notion that goes back in political philosophy at least to John Locke. It refers to the claim that individuals own themselves – their bodies, talents, abilities, and labor, and thereby the fruits or products of those talents, abilities and labor. We could argue in great length whether we indeed do. We could also argue about the premise of Reinhold Niehbur, an American theologian, social activist and philosopher who speaks of the sinfulness of human nature, that is, the egotism of individuals and groups. World leading Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal (“A time for Empathy” and “Our Inner Ape”) claims the opposite from his studies of chimpanzees and bonobos and argues against a ‘selfish and aggressive gene’ and for the innate drive in many animals including humans to relate, care, and feel empathy. To me de Waal’s assertion is more attractive for the obvious reason, but I won’t start the debate here. Let’s stay close to home and focus on the individual person and his responsibility and ownership. I will just ask you whether you own your life, your beliefs, your values, your choices, your leadership style, and your outcomes? Do you? To answer this question, you will need the will and the ability to ask yourself questions. This is where philosophy comes in.
Philosophy to me is wondering, pondering, reflecting, searching – not for the fun of it, but to challenge my beliefs, thoughts, and interpretations and to open up new directions of thought, going places with my thinking I’ve never been before, and pondering questions like “How can we know anything?”, “ What is the source of truth?”, “Can we really believe what we see?”, and “Why is there evil in the world?” All this wondering, reflecting, and questioning can enhance my vision, help me appreciate differences and ambiguity more, and it can help me be less prone to preconceptions, judgments, rigid beliefs, and boxed-in thinking. And I am purposefully stating “less prone” since we will always be blind for certain things and I might always be unwilling, consciously or not, to let in certain information and ideas.
So philosophy to me is asking questions, in particular the “why” question. It is exploring the motivations and drives behind my thoughts and actions and those of others. Philosophy is delving into the why’s in this world, going deeper than just my individual. Philosophy is the love for wisdom that comes from relentless questioning. My first response to one of our children asking whether they can ask a question is often “Honey, I love questions”. And so I do, but how about you?
Some leadership related questions to start you off with:
è Why do you do what you do? What kind of thinking and which beliefs form the foundation for your choices and actions?
è Why do you really get up in the morning? What is your purpose in life and with your organization?
è Which are your guiding values? How do you practice them, live them, teach them?
è Why do you spend time on the things you spend time on? Does this line up with your values?
è What is it that your business is selling, producing, serving, trading, inventing and how does this relate to your values and your purpose in life?
From here you can continue with questions about motivation, truth, objectivity, and so much more. The journey toward understanding yourself, others, and the world around you is always a humbling one and a journey that never ends. Start your journey, continue your journey, enjoy your journey.