Behind questions of leadership lie questions of philosophy | SEI - Swiss Engineering Institute
Behind questions of leadership lie questions of philosophy
July 19, 2018
By Martin Brasser


Behind questions of leadership lie questions of philosophy

Question 1: How do I motivate employees if the goals are not very attractive? 

Management science has a lot to say about motivation. Even Herzberg distinguishes between the famous hygiene factors and the motivation factors. The main motivation comes from success – and more precisely when this success cannot (only) be attributed to others but (also and especially) to oneself and one's own contribution. To be the cause of a chain of action is exactly how freedom is defined in philosophy. Motivation is therefore the result of managers giving their employees the freedom they need to put themselves at the beginning of a sequence of actions. Those who think of freedom only as independence have already limited themselves intellectually in a way that is of little help if they want to transform people into motivated employees. Philosophy helps an individual to think widely, and consequently as a leader to work towards motivation that really inspires and motivates – in the direction of freedom. 

Question 2: How do I guide myself so that I always have enough energy?

When it comes to self-management, there is no shortage of advice concerning good energy management. Most of those entrusted with management tasks have their own personal recipe for coping with the stresses and strains involved. And yet the number of burnout cases in individual sectors continues to rise year after year. In management science, managers who are able to continue working despite this increase in stress are termed "resilient". What common characteristic do these managers share? They have found answers to the questions as to the reason for and purpose of their work, the meaning and purpose of the task to which they are committed, and why they are precisely the right person for the job. When it comes to the latter question, it is very helpful to resort to knowledge gained from psychology. For the first questions as to the meaning and purpose of the work and task, it is very helpful to work out the direction in which everything is heading. Who examines these questions? Philosophy has been examining them ever since it existed. 

Question 3: What relationships should I maintain when time resources are in short supply?

On the topic of relationships: Core management questions are about finding and retaining the right partners, building relationships with sufficient foresight, and cultivating partnerships even when they cannot be "used" directly. How can this be done? Of crucial importance here are cooperation processes as well as attitudes and actions of trust. How does trust develop? What should you do when trust is damaged? Which controls prevent trust, and which promote trust? These are all management questions – and all questions relating to the philosophy of trust. The basis for the answers is laid when one begins to understand the mechanism that allows trust to be created. Who better to analyse this mechanism than a leader trained with the logical precision of philosophy? 

Three examples out of many. They show that neither management nor philosophy provide conclusive recipes. What you actually decide and do in management is determined by the situation in which you act. Questioning this situation is a core skill of every manager. And how to question is an easy skill to learn from philosophy, because philosophy is pretty much the sum of all the questions that you have ever asked yourself.

More insights

Cultural fit 2020: The corporate culture is key

The wind has changed, and young applicants now pay more attention to how coherent the corporate culture of an employer is. Whether their initial interest leads to an application is ultimately decided by the cultural fit, which is why companies n

What Generation Y and Z expect from their employers

Status? Hierarchy? Authority? Generations Y and Z are questioning what used to be taken for granted. That is why a fresh wind is blowing through the working world. As a result, companies need to look again at the factors that make employers attr