Who are the best thinkers in history

What leaders can learn from great philosophers

Socrates, Plato, Kant and others are considered great philosophers of history with an influence on the present. Even modern managers can learn a lot from these great thinkers.

Managers can learn a lot from great philosophers like Socrates, Plato or Aristotle.

How can you lead others if you don't know who or what leads you? - Michael Niehaus, philosophy consultant

Manager-Magazin regularly publishes an overview of the best-selling business books. It currently includes titles such as “The Principles of Success” by Ray Dalio. When reading such a management guide, however, I recently asked myself: Why do we always have to refer to the latest literature? Can't the insights that famous philosophers came to hundreds or thousands of years ago also make us better leaders? After all, good leadership always has to do with values ​​and ethics.

It pays to pause and reflect on yourself

I think it can be worthwhile to regularly take some time to review your own views and values ​​- and adjust them if necessary. And to look for alternative courses of action. Terms such as mindfulness, meditation and resilience are now increasingly found in everyday management.

In my opinion, self-reflection is still often neglected. In our digital, fast-moving world, there is often not enough time to do this. Or we just don't consider them important enough !? Pausing and reflecting on yourself can be extremely valuable and help you - and thus your team - further.

Create clarity about values ​​and goals

This has even been scientifically proven: According to a neuroscientific study from Switzerland, a certain brain region is activated through self-reflection and this in turn can have a positive effect on professional success. Because the managers become clearer about their own set of values ​​and their strategic goals. In addition, looking inward helps them bring together important information to achieve their goals and implement effective plans.

In this respect, it is not surprising that there are now even specialized consulting firms that help managers with self-reflection. You build on the teachings of ancient philosophers such as Socrates, Plato or Confucius. But the insights of modern (pre-) thinkers should also help managers to reflect and develop their own personal philosophy of life and at the same time enable them to realize their ideals.

Is the Chief Philosophy Officer coming?

Companies are also increasingly recognizing the value of philosophy for their success: The co-founder of the LinkedIn platform, Reid Hoffmann, studied philosophy at Oxford and completed his studies with a “Master of Arts”. Peter Thiel, the Frankfurt-based Silicon Valley investor and co-founder of PayPal, also studied philosophy at Stanford. The times seem to be over when you could (supposedly) only become a successful entrepreneur with a degree in business administration.

According to HR consultant Irina Kummert, not only American start-ups are thinking about “establishing more and more CPOs - Chief Philosophy Officers - in addition to the classic functions such as CEO and CFO”. Simply because there are completely new requirements in corporations today and the analog management culture has had its day. Heterarchy instead of hierarchy is the motto - equality, eye level, self-determination. And philosophers are used to thinking networked, reducing complexity and at the same time balancing opportunities and risks in the company - without avoiding all risks and acting as a blocker. Kummert concludes: “Philosophers make the difference. Because of their way of thinking, they can't do anything else: They embody, they live a digital, networked leadership culture. "

Questioning entrenched views

Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own mind! - Immanuel Kant

So do I now need a special coach in order to benefit from philosophical methods as a manager? In my opinion, you don't necessarily need that at the beginning to become aware of your own values ​​and ideals. You can also sit down alone and deliberately ponder your worldview. The works of various philosophers can help in this process of self-exploration.

Let's just take the great Socrates. In the mornings he pestered the ancient Greeks with his questions in the marketplace until they had to change their stuck views. And his famous quote is: "I know that I know nothing!". He wanted to encourage people to question themselves again and again: What is really the truth? What is the right action? You shouldn't make it easy for yourself and just think in terms of ready-made patterns.

If you don't know what to ask for, I have a first “SANE tip” here to get you started! It’s about the big questions of principle from four outstanding philosophers:

  • Socrates: "What is the hardest question anyone could ask me about my current course of action?"
  • Aristotle: "Which character traits are most important to me and how should I express them in my life?"
  • Nietzsche: "How do I want to channel my will to power, promote my own interests and act according to my values?"
  • Existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre: "How can I take full responsibility for my decisions and their consequences?"

In addition to these "Big Four", there are of course countless other great philosophers who can make us (managers) think. Here is a small and compact selection for inspiration:

Think outside the box with stoic calm

Anyone who knows others is smart. He who knows himself is wise. - Laotse

There is, for example, the famous Roman stoic Seneca. He was a. Teacher to Emperor Nero. He asked: How do we achieve the feeling of stoic calm in a restless, worry-ridden world? In his opinion, one should understand the resistance of the world as natural or as a challenge to be tried out. Accordingly, stoic calm requires that you come to terms with the circumstances around you and learn to deal with the fact that you grow with the resistance.

The ancient philosopher Epictect also took the view that we don't need to be unnecessarily upset about things that we cannot influence anyway. Instead, we should better focus on what we can change or improve.

Epicurus, a Greek thinker around 300 BC, advises looking forward to several small successes rather than waiting for the one, very big success.

Michel de Montaigne, a French thinker in the 16th century, advised more serenity. He is convinced that you are yourself the greatest critic. The others only cook with water. Everyone makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect!

Immanuel Kant advocates thinking outside the box, becoming aware of one's own subjective point of view.

The Austro-British philosopher Karl Popper, who lived in the 20th century, said: Nobody could claim “the one truth” for themselves. You should therefore look for the best solution together with others!

Friedrich Nietzsche warned during his lifetime: "The safest way to spoil a young man is to induce him to respect those who think like him more than those who think differently."

And Emmanuel Lévinas, born in Kaunas, Lithuania, died in Paris, recommends concentrating on and turning to other people. This behavior helps you to recognize new things about yourself and to develop personally. In other words, for self-optimization you should also look outwards and not just inwards!

Some reading tips for deepening

That could go on indefinitely. There are so many philosophers who have come to interesting insights that are worth thinking about, not just as a manager. But that would go beyond the scope here. Therefore, I recommend three (hopefully not yet out of print) books to all those who want to delve deeper into the topic:

  1. “The most important philosophers for managers” by Andreas Drosdek: Here the most important philosophical lessons and their significance for today's management are summarized in a nutshell. “Especially at a time when products and services are becoming more and more similar and when companies are complaining about short-term thinking, it is important that managers keep using the great potential of philosophers. Because the intellectual context and the culture of thought of a company make the decisive competition ”, it says in the booklet. People like to talk about the “company philosophy”.
  2. “Management by Sokrates for employee management, consulting, coaching and training” by Michael Niehaus and Roger Wisniewski: The self-description of this work is: “This book demonstrates the potential of philosophizing for corporate and employee management in a clear and practical way. It is not a guide that is at hand with quick tips, but stimulates your own thought. "
  3. “As a self-developer for private and professional success” by Jens Corssen: I have also worked with Jens Corssen. He invented the “self-developer”, a method of how we can make better use of our possibilities: for a healthier life, a happier relationship and professional satisfaction. “The energy that is often used in vain to change others can be invested more profitably in one's own development,” stresses Corssen.

Managers should be staunch CPOs

Personally, I also try to reflect again and again and to question my own actions as a manager.Much of what I thought was right in the past, I consciously do differently today. Since I started my current job, I have learned and developed further. For example in the sense of letting go, giving the employees more freedom, more personal responsibility. Be less of a micro-manager, more of a mentor.

Asking more questions, listening more, challenging your own team more and using people's knowledge and expertise more to achieve common goals. Hold a bit like Socrates, who has taken his fellow human beings to the next level by asking questions. Without wanting to compare myself as a philosophical layman with this brilliant thought leader and great father of all philosophers, but I also try to use his principle again and again in my job.

That is why I now interpret my role as a manager more and more as that of an “enabler”. As a convinced CPO, I want to get the most out of people and get them to develop their individual strengths. My colleagues and my company benefit equally from this. Or to paraphrase the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson: "What we need most in life is someone who makes us do what we are capable of."

Philosophy is not a waste of time

Inner contemplation is not a waste of time. She helps me personally to get my thoughts to the point and to gain new ideas for my own actions. And I think that this can also help many other people to gain new insights. After all, the term “philosophy” means something like “the love of wisdom”.

So if we think about timeless, philosophical values, this can change our (leadership) behavior for the better and favor our further development. It can go a long way towards ensuring that we become better managers and thus lead more satisfied employees. Because one is directly related to the other.