Reply to “Making Yourself Indispensable”

In Friendship on August 12, 2018 at 2:17 pm

German Philosopher Josef Pieper, photo: Voegelin ViewIt seems prudent enough that we should seek to make ourselves “indispensable” in our workplace if we are leaders or aspiring to be. However, this type of prudence is the Modern sense of the word, a sort of fierce Machiavellian self-interest in one’s own good. Such a prudence is erroneous. Although in their article from Harvard Business Review On Point, authors John H. Zenger, Joseph R. Folkman and Scott K. Edinger articulate mellifluously the leadership qualities of outstanding leaders, the article only lightly discusses an essential behavior to “develop others,” which they disappointingly term as a “complementary behavior.”

Develop Others

Leadership is taking the time to specifically mentor, person by person, the next generation of future leaders. Developing others is the most important trait of any leader, making him – you guessed it – dispensable. Dispensable, for the good of those who have to follow him and the organization itself. That is prudence. According to the late professor of the University of Munster in Germany, Josef Pieper, “Only by means of this perfected ability to make good choices are instinctive inclinations toward goodness exalted into the spiritual core of man’s decisions, from which truly human acts arise.”(The Four Cardinal Virtues. p.7) Erroneously, the “prudent” corporate leader might think that what makes him indispensable is his instinctual ability to survive the storms at the top. However, what the proper, prudent leader has done, over the years, is to actively train his subordinates in his multifarious tasks. The truly prudent leader’s survival at the top would not be the result of his dogged self-interested positioning, but rather he would be sustained by the very subordinates he so loyally developed to move up to the next level; from them would come that continued support for his continued leadership.

Become an Expert

We’ve all heard the aphorism, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” What the article’s authors clearly point out is that you have to be extremely good, not just at something, but at some things. The authors say, “What makes leaders indispensable to their organizations…is not being good at many things but being uniquely outstanding at a few.”(p.31) The indispensable leader goes from “good to great” by raising his competency levels in several core leadership categories rather than many. The way one does this is by identifying one’s strengths and then “focus on a competency that matters to the organization and about which they feel some passion…”(p.32) Everyone can get passionate about the good qualities of other people.

It is the role of the leader, the executive, the manager, “to know his self,” his strengths and weaknesses very well. But it is equally important that he also reach out to others helping them identify and develop their own strengths. The biggest take away of the article is that “…Assertiveness is among the behaviors that when paired with honesty and integrity correlate most strongly with high levels of overall leadership effectiveness.””We don’t mean to imply a causal relationship here: Assertiveness doesn’t make someone honest, and integrity doesn’t produce assertiveness.”(p.32) Only the truly prudent leader who seeks to develop others so they can reach their maximum potential will be heard, effective and remembered.

True Prudence Is Necessary for Success

It is wise to be prudent. As Pieper says, “Prudence is needed if man is to carry through his impulses and instincts for right acting, if he is to purify his naturally good predispositions and make them into real virtue, that is, into the truly human mode of “perfected ability.” (p.7) The self-forgetful person is the prudent leader who privately works with many people to build them up, helping them to find their passion in their work and in their life outside of work. As the authors say, “…if a highly principled leader learned to become more assertive, he might be more likely to speak up and act with the courage of his convictions, thus applying his strength more widely or frequently to become a more effective leader.”(p. 30) Assertiveness, yes, but coupled with humility, this is the foundation an emotionally intelligent person needs for success with others. As one great philosopher said, “Prudence is the “measure” of justice, of fortitude, of temperance.” (p.7) The truly prudent leader knows the truth, that he is not indispensable, and the mark of his leadership is revealed by the success of those who succeed him.


“Love Builds Up”​ from Soren Kierkegaard

In Friendship on November 12, 2017 at 8:06 am
We’ve all had experiences of getting annoyed by people around us, whether at home or at work. And, we’ve probably come across some of the popular leadership notions that if we claim to be an “emotionally intelligent” leader, then we have to have a “positive attitude.” Well, Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, had a jump start on emotional intelligence theory when he philosophized that the real source of a “positive attitude” is an ethic of love taken personally in our everyday dealings with other people, in his Works of Love (Trans. by Howard and Edna Hong, Harper Perennial:New York. 2009).

Love Builds Up

If we find ourselves annoyed by a co-worker or a family member, first we should look at ourselves and ponder it. By contrast, Kierkegaard says, “If any person has ever spoken to you in such a way or acted toward you in such a way that you really felt yourself built up, it was because you quite vividly perceived that he presupposed love to be present in you.”(p.210) Perhaps that annoying family member or colleague is the very person that needs your mentorship. Perhaps, their annoyance is really a cry for help or friendship from you or others you can put them in touch with. Kierkegaard continues, “Love builds up by presupposing that love is fundamentally present”(p.208). If we do as Kierkegaard suggests, and assume some level of love for my co-worker or my family member, then it is that very assumption, that very ‘leap of love,’ which now becomes the basis for a relationship in the first place. However, what if we don’t care about that relationship or we’ve come to just plain distrust another’s motives? Then, Kierkegaard says, “Mistrust takes the very ground-level away by presupposing that love is not present; therefore mistrust cannot build up.” (p.209) We are at our worst, even unbalanced, when we are critical of others or purposefully annoying them. Kierkegaard advises, “To tear down is the opposite of building up…Only too easily does tearing down satisfy the sensual man.”(p.208) We cannot help someone we don’t trust or don’t forgive;we certainly cannot lead them, because it would be very hard to have a “positive attitude” with someone whom we have no basis for a relationship.


The Emotionally Intelligent Person “Builds Up”

We can make a connection from Kierkegaard’s thought to modern leadership theory. According to Dr Travis Bradberry, author of Leadership 2.0 (TalentSmart:San Diego, 2012) he says, “Self-awareness is a foundational skill: when you have it, self-awareness makes the other emotional intelligence skills much easier…as self-awareness increases, people’s satisfaction with life–defined as their ability to reach their goals at work and at home–skyrockets.”(p. 135) Bradberry says, if we have personal competence, then we’ll have the social competence necessary to improve relationships. Why do we need to improve relationships? If we are annoyed by someone at home or at work, that should be a pretty good indicator that that relationship needs some work. According to Peter F. Drucker, in his “Managing Yourself” article from Harvard Business Review (Harvard Business Review Press.:Boston, Massachusetts. 2010), he says, “Managing yourself requires taking responsibility for relationships…the first [responsibility] is to accept the fact that other people are as much individuals as you yourself are…”and, “the second part of relationship responsibility is taking responsibility for communication.”(p.27) All individuals are unique. As the German philosopher Max Scheler says, “Humans are ‘world-open'” and not simply “beings-in-the-world,” but spiritual beings who can make their own judgements, even beyond the cosmos and themselves (The Human Place in the Cosmos. Trans. by Manfred S. Frings. Northwestern University Press: Evanston, Illinois. 2009). Scheler says, “…only the human being is able to soar far above his status as a living entity and, from a center beyond the spatio-temporal world, make everything the object of his knowledge, including himself.”(p.33) Given this perspective, we should have some pause if we have a tendency to stereotype others, at home or at work, and realize their individuality is as profound as ours. Given what Drucker said earlier, “taking responsibility for communication,” can be seen as building others up as well. We need to communicate our intentions frequently and that will convey our genuine concern for them. As Dr. Bradberry says, “Let your people know that you are looking to help them advance their careers by fully capitalizing on their strengths and stretching their knowledge and skills.”(p.246) Love builds up by communicating.


Love As The Foundation of Everything Good

Kierkegaard’s philosophy of love draws from 1 Corinthians 8-13. He comments on the famous 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient,” by this it builds up, for patience specifically means perseverance in presupposing that love is fundamentally present.”(p.208) Patience with someone who annoys you at work or at home is to think continually the best about that person, to not give up on them, to persevere in seeking and finding their good qualities, as difficult as that may seem sometimes. Perhaps one may even, at some point tell them, at the right time, those qualities that you appreciate about them. Kierkegaard continues, “Love bears all things,” for what is it to bear all things but in the long run to find in everything the love which is fundamentally presupposed.”(p.209) As a leader, at home or at work, according to Dr Bradberry, “You become the mechanism by which your organization [or family] breathes life and connects with its people.””Every day you balance being human (talented and flawed) with serving as the most visible vessel for the organization.”(p.205) Leaders have to sacrifice and bear all things.

Kierkegaard regards the penultimate example of this “building up” to be the father of the prodigal son. He says, “In spite of the son’s misguided conduct there was no break on the father’s side…; he hoped all things; therefore he, in truth, built up through his fatherly forgiveness, since the son vividly grasped the fact that fatherly love had carried through with him and that there had been no break.”(p.209) Kierkegaard concludes that to love and to “build up” are essentially the same, if you love, you “build up” the other person; if you “build up” that other person, it is because you love them. He continues, “Love believes all things,” for to believe all things means precisely, even though love is not apparent, even though the opposite is seen, to presuppose that love is nevertheless present fundamentally, even in the misguided, even in the corrupt, even in the hateful.”(p.209) Acting this way is the foundation of trust, the foundation of love, the foundation to build upon. Kierkegaard, in his very Existentialist way, then says, “But what, then, is love?” “Love means to presuppose love; to have love means to presuppose love in others; to be loving means to presuppose that others are loving…Let us understand each other.” (p.211) Who will seek to understand the other if the leader does not?

Whomever seeks understanding is a leader, because he first “builds up.”

On Vocation from Emmauel Mounier

In Friendship on May 18, 2016 at 10:48 pm

mounier pic


Emmanuel Mounier, a famous French personalist philosopher of the early 20th century, declares that everyone can discover themselves anew, everyday if we would only take time to examine our lives.  Mounier shows that the discovery of one’s vocation is a daily effort and will continue for the rest of our lives.  He tells us that our lives are extremely unique, well worth living, and that its value grows as we concentrate our minds and contemplate in order to find, what he calls, that “secret voice” to guide our lives.  In his book, Personalism (University of Notre Dame Press. Notre Dame, Indiana. 1952) Emmanuel Mounier elaborates on how man’s search for meaning is unique for every person.

Our Vocation is Simple and Complex 

Mounier is very practical and real in his approach to self-discovery and one’s vocation. He says, “Surprises innumerable arise out of the abysses of the unconscious, out of the abysses of the super-conscious and out of the spontaneity of freedom, incessantly renewing the question of my identity.”  As a quintessential personalist, Mounier keeps the metaphysical questions personal, asking: Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going?  How did I get here? In other words, it is good for us to reflect on our being as a person, and shed light on the reasons for our behavior and ideas.  Later, Mounier discusses how we might find ourselves getting all complicated about our vocation, “A person’s continual re-interpretation of his vocation is so incessantly disruptive of every short-term objective–his own interest, adaptation or success–that in this respect one might regard the person as arbitrariness itself, even though his ever action were one of commitment or devotion.”(p.42)

As an aside, here, we might think of the Existentialist Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity, and how, in a certain sense Mounier similarly seems to be complaining about the seemingly ambiguous or seemingly arbitrariness of the circumstances of life.  Even though we might not know or understand the meaning of a moment or circumstance of our lives, it doesn’t mean that we will never know.  We don’t know in advance when we will know. So, we can hope that one day, if today we don’t understand something, we might be on the verge of knowing its meaning or it may be much later off, when we have the aid of other experiences in mind.  When Mounier points out the burden of the “continual re-interpretation of his vocation,” one might suppose that a consolation of this hardship might be the fact that everyone is regularly going through a process of self-discovery throughout life and we are the one’s to appreciate and sympathize with where our neighbor on her journey.  But, perhaps Mounier’s larger point is that our mind, our spirit, our heart, our soul, they are dynamic, they don’t rest, they’re not static and we should face that fact.  The question of our personal identity is continually carved out like a fine sculpture with all of our life’s experiences.  Yet, in spite of all of this unknowing, we can be sure of the reality that Mounier points out:  “But a personalist standpoint is sufficiently defined even in this thought–that the significance of every person is such that he is irreplaceable in the position he occupies in the world of persons.”(p.41)  We are where we are for a reason, and even though we might not immediately understand the immediate reason for where we are, we can take consolation in knowing that where we are no one else can be or would be if we weren’t there immediately, and that’s important.  So, the person checking out our groceries at the store, the fireman saving someone’s life, or the mother helping a child, everyone where ever they are can discover his vocation in exactly that spot-that brings meaning out of what appears arbitrary and ambiguous.

Mounier asks us to cherish the value of all persons.  He says, “Such is the majestic status of the person, endowing it with the dignity of a universe; and yet also its humility, for in this dignity each person is equivalent to every other, and persons are more numerous than the stars.” (p. 41)  According to the UCSB Science Line, there are billion trillion stars in the universe.  According to the BBC, about 107 Billion people have ever lived on earth.  One  might suppose that since both numbers are in the billions, Mounier is exaggerating and meaning to say, these figures are much more than any one person could ever count.As a personalist he is preferencing the importance of persons, who are the only beings who can give meaning to things in the first place.  Just as French philosopher Jacques Maritain says about the person, that he is a universe unto himself, here too similarly, Mounier reverences the value of the person as a “universe,” and the value of human life, its dignity. This value Christians too give the person because they “believe in the all-embracing appeal of one Person.”(p.41)  Even though the number of persons are numerous, in the world and throughout history, each person’s life is a separate history, a separate world with a universe of meaning that its each person freedom and duty to discover her ultimate meaning, her divine meaning, her greatest dignity, her vocation in life.

Mounier concludes appealing to the role of one’s vocation as manifested in the public realm.  He says, “Therefore, in questions of the collective life, personalism always gives the techniques of education and persuasion priority over the techniques of enforcement, diplomacy or deception; for man only works well when he is working with the whole of himself.””Unity in a world of persons cannot be obtained without diversity of vocations and authenticity of membership.”(p.42)  Here, Mounier is speaking for the whole school of personalism arguing that, institutionally, any collective body should use education and persuasion to aid individuals in the discovery of their vocation.  Their life’s vocation has to be freely chosen, in other words.  Here, Mounier encourages diversity and sincerity for those in public life, in their professional work and in their participation in civil society. In this way, he says, even though “It is approached by a long and difficult road…it should at least control our general directives for action.”(p.42)  We can see here that Mounier suggests that peace in the public realm comes from the internal peace in individuals through their ability to freely achieve her vocation personally and publicly.