What Philosophy Can Teach You about Being a Better Leader

Authors – Alison Reynolds, Dominic Houlder, Jules Goddard and David Lewis

Book discussed – 21 January 2020

Review by – Andrew Parrock

Modern workplaces are dehumanised with people only being treated as ‘resources.’ The authors turn to moral philosophy, which seeks to understand what is ‘good’ for human beings; meaning that which allows people to develop and flourish.

The authors have worked with many leaders and managers from over 200 organisations in the public and private sectors over the last 30 years in their leadership development programmes, from which their ideas have grown. These offer a fresh way of thinking about leadership. 

In the book the ideas of well-known philosophers are introduced as a way to change workplaces that have become dehumanised. Some key concepts from Aristotle and Nietzsche, and their applicability to contemporary workplaces, are discussed, as is Popper’s philosophy of scientific discovery, and how it could be harnessed to let people flourish by unleashing their creativity. Looking wider, the ideas of Rawls, Hobbes, Kant, Epictetus, Hume and Haidt show how strategy, authority and communication of change can be humanised: The authors argue that leadership must be turned ‘upside down’, starting with the creation of a culture in which people can flourish, be more in control and bring their own ideas more freely to work. Taking this perspective they then address the ‘engagement’ industry that has developed recently, bringing in Buber’s ideas about how leaders can relate more humanly with their people. 

Finally, the nature of organisational decision making is examined through Berlin’s work on how pluralism can address ethical dilemmas and how individuals define themselves through their choices, using Strawson’s work on free-will, Socrates idea of ‘spiritedness’ and Sartre’s contribution to existentialism and free-will.

The ideas are explained clearly and their direct application to leadership behaviour demonstrated practically. This is a book for leaders at all levels, with some interesting ideas to experiment with.

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