I had the honour of attending a wonderful discussion a few weeks ago, organised by my friend Joe Laffery of Lifetree (@joelafferty) and former CEO of Tayside NHS Tony Wells. The main contributor to the day was Peter Koestenbaum the founder of Philosophy in Business.
It was one of those days when the self-employment dial was at the ‘overworked’ end of the scale, rather than pointing to ‘ I wonder what I’ll do today?’ (which luckily is still a rare event). I was sorely tempted to send Joe a message giving my apologies so that I could get on with meeting some of my impending deadlines.
There is a lot of rubbish spouted about leadership, very often from people who can just about manage to get themselves out of bed in the morning but have never managed or led anything or anyone in their puff. There are of course notable exceptions. I really like the work of Harvard’s Ronald Heifetz, for example, as he seems to me to be one of the few to recognise not just the complexity but also the contextual nature of leadership.
Peter Koestenbaum is another of those rare exceptions who has something substantial to say about leadership. He comes at the challenges of leadership in the business world from the perspective of a philosopher who draws on two and a half thousand years of ideas to bring insights to the challenges we face today.
As Sartre noted we are condemned to be free. We cannot escape making decisions however constrained our circumstances may be. We are also multi-dimensional not reducible to a single life role, whether it be as worker, carer or even consumer.
Peter’s Leadership Diamond is a useful tool for exploring the concept and practice of leadership. His approach maintains the complexity of life rather than reducing it to a set of simple steps to be followed irrespective of the context. The four corners, which are just the start of his theory, remind us that we always need to deal with reality as we find it; be clear about the ethics that underpin who we are with others; maintain our vision for the future; and ensure we have the courage to make things happen however difficult the circumstances that we find ourselves in are.
I left the day feeling inspired and with a refreshed sense of purpose to make a difference in the world. I was also once again struck by how important philosophy is helping us to sort out the bad ideas from the good and clarifying our thinking. I also managed to meet all of those deadlines and the quality of my work was sooo much better than it would have been if I hadn’t taken some time out to ‘sharpen the saw’.