Taking a Philosophical Approach to Leadership

For training in leadership development, some business experts are focusing on taking a philosophical approach. It is an attempt to get business leaders to examine their values and beliefs as a precursor to the ultimate goal of making a behavior change.

Although mindfulness has gained increased attention recently, the kind of introspection required to assess one’s values, beliefs, and virtues has been relatively neglected. But it shouldn’t be, according to research.

Introspection has been shown to activate an important area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which helps us to synthesize and analyze a variety of different types of information – emotional, motivational, and cognitive.

Taking a philosophical, introspective approach helps leaders to clarify their worldviews and goals in light of the obstacles they face. While this doesn’t necessarily entail formal training in philosophy, it does require a philosophical mindset, an emphasis on logical, rational thought, and a questioning attitude. In pursuing this, several approaches taken by different thinkers can be helpful.

For example, following the dialogical approach of Socrates, you could challenge yourself by asking, What is the most challenging questions someone could ask about the way I am handling my leadership role? Following Aristotle, you could examine the virtues and evaluate which are the most important to you and how you would incorporate them into your own behavior. Following the Existentialists, who counsel that we and only we give meaning to our lives, and are therefore completely responsible for our action, because we are nothing more or less than what we do, you could ask how you will take responsibility for your choices and their consequences.

This is not simply an intellectual exercise, but is intended to relate to real world problems faced by business leaders, by helping them to reflect on their values and choices, thereby changing their situations and improving their leadership ability.

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