Tag: Aristotle

The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership: Classical Wisdom for Modern Leaders

How many of today’s problems are the result of leadership?

What’s lacking, the author of The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership argues, is the lack of real leadership.

Here the problem may lie with a lack of deeper, broader insights, the kind of insights that technical skill alone does not confer— the ability to see the big picture, to connect with members of the organization, to foster a meaningful and productive work environment, and to steer the corporate ship through the challenges of highly competitive markets and new technologies.

What is leadership?

The authors define the term “leadership” in a way that differentiates their “interpretation from the offhanded views that too often distort the word’s meaning.”

It is the assumption of the authors that leadership is an uncommon composite of skill, experience, and ripened personal perspectives. It is, of course, the last of those elements that sets the real leader apart from those who simply “run” organizations. Ripened personal perspectives are an essential ingredient in a leader’s efforts to develop and articulate a sound corporate vision. Real leaders, people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, see things more rapidly than does the typical executive. At least in part, their insights are a reflection of an “inner” clarity that allows for fuller concentration on the challenges at hand.

This is why leadership cannot be “done by the numbers,” why those who have failed to comprehend the motivating subtleties in their own lives are unlikely to achieve the status of “leader.” Simply put, only those men and women who have cultivated a care fully conceived philosophy of life are ready and able to exhibit the kind of workplace mastery suggested by the term “leader.” Now for some, invoking the term “philosophy” in this context may seem strangely out of place. To one degree or another, we all have been conditioned to believe that philosophy is at best a kind of noble laziness, a speculative exercise devoid of concrete benefit. Yet it may be that many of the inefficiencies and failures that plague our managerial environments are ultimately related to an inadequate consideration of what philosophy has to offer.

The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership

1. Know thyself. Understand your inner world, your bright and dark sides, your personal strengths and weakness. Self-comprehension is a fundamental precondition necessary for real leadership.

2. Office shows the person. The assumption of authority brings out the leader’s inner world. It reveals whether the leader has undergone a process of honest self-discovery that allows for the productive application of power.

3. Nurture community in the workplace. Community development and positive sentiment are virtues leaders must nurture by providing the right support, guidance, and incentives.

4. Do not waste energy on things you cannot change. Do not waste resources and energies on things you cannot control, and therefore, cannot change.

5. Always embrace the truth. Effective leaders should always embrace the truth, always encourage candid criticism throughout the organization, be skeptical of flattering appraisals, and never let authority place a wedge between them and the truth.

6. Let competition reveal talent. Nurture an environment that can use the forces of competition constructively, create a platform that releases the ingenuity and creativity of your employees in pursuing corporate goals and objectives, identify subordinates who use competition as a constructive force, steer away from subordinates who use competition as a destructive force.

7. Live life by a higher code. Dedicate yourself to a higher standard of personal conduct; don’t harbor ill-will toward those who offend; be ready to assist those who are in need without asking something in return; remain calm in the face of crisis; dedicate yourself to principle without compromise; earn the trust, respect, and admiration of your subordinates through your character, not the authority conferred upon you by the corporate chart; turn authority into power.

8. Always evaluate information with a critical eye. Don’t rely upon old premises, assertions, and theories. Develop a critical mindset that accepts nothing at face value, certify the credibility and usefulness of critical information, analyze the con text that produces critical information and the messengers who convey it, and never rush to judgments.

9. Never underestimate the power of personal integrity. Personal integrity is a critical asset for real leadership. Always set an honorable agenda, adhere to a code of professional conduct, never try to justify dishonesty and deceit, rather “fail with honor than win by cheating.”

10. Character is destiny. True leadership is ultimately traceable to factors of character and personal integrity; much of what is called “destiny” lies in our hands, not in mysterious forces beyond our control.

The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership: Classical Wisdom for Modern Leaders is a worthy read for anyone looking to embark on a journey of critical self-examination. You’ll learn from the revered ancient thinkers like Aristotle, Hesiod, Sophocles, Heraclitus, and Antisthenes.

Aristotle on Time

Aristotle, in The Physics, produces “a statement of the difficulties about the attributes of time.”

Next for discussion is time. The best plan will be to begin by working out the difficulties connected with it, making use of the current arguments. First, does it belong to the class of things that exist or to that of things that do not exist? Then secondly, what is its nature? To start, then: the following considerations would make one suspect that it either does not exist at all or barely, and in an obscure way. One part of it has been and is not, while the other is going to be and is not yet. Yet time—both infinite time and any time you like to take—is made up of these. One would naturally suppose that what is made up of things which do not exist could have no share in reality.

Further, if a divisible thing is to exist, it is necessary that when it exists, all or some of its parts must exist. But of time some parts have been, while others have to be, and no part of it is, though it is divisible. For what is “now” is not a part: a part is a measure of the whole, which must be made up of parts. Time, on the other hand, is not held to be made up of “nows.” Again, the “now” which seems to bound the past and the future—does it always remain one and the same or is it always other and other? It is hard to say.

(1) If it is always different and different, and if none of the parts in time which are other and other are simultaneous (unless the one contains and the other is contained, as the shorter time is by the longer), and if the “now” which is not, but formerly was, must have ceased to be at some time, the “nows” too cannot be simultaneous with one another—but the prior “now” must always have ceased to be. But the prior “now” cannot have ceased to be in itself (since it then existed); yet it cannot have ceased to be in another “now.” For we may lay it down that one “now” cannot be next to another, any more than point to point. If then it did not cease to be in the next “now” but in another, it would exist simultaneously with the innumerable “nows” between the two—which is impossible.

Yes, but (2) neither is it possible for the “now” to remain always the same. No determinate divisible thing has a single termination, whether it is continuously extended in one or in more than one dimension: but the “now” is a termination, and it is possible to cut off a determinate time. Further, if coincidence in time (i.e., being neither prior nor posterior) means to be “in one and the same now,” then, if both what is before and what is after are in this same “now,” things which happened ten thousand years ago would be simultaneous with what has happened today, and nothing would be before or after anything else.

Produce More by Removing More: The Disciplined Pursuit of Essentialism

Aristotle talked about three kinds of work: theoretical, practical, and poetical. The first searches for truth. The second is practical with an objective around action. The third, however, is lost in our modern culture. The philosopher Martin Heidegger called this “bringing-forth.”

In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown describes this as an essentialist trait.

This is how the essentialist approaches execution: “An Essentialist produces more—brings forth more— by removing more instead of doing more.”

We rarely have the time to think through what we’re doing. And there is a lot of organizational pressure to be seen as doing something new.

The problem is that we think of execution in terms of addition rather than subtraction. The way to increase the production speed is to add more people. The way to get more sales is to add more salespeople. The way to do more, you need more — people, money, power. And there is a lot of evidence to support this type of thinking. At least, at first. Eventually, you add add add until your organization seeps with bureaucracy, slows to an inevitable crawl, centralizes even the smallest decisions, and loses market share. The road to hell is paved with good intentions with curbs of ego.

Rather than focusing on what to add, McKeown argues that we should focus on “constraints or obstacles” that need to be removed. It isn’t about adding, it’s about subtracting. I found this interesting to think about in the context of Ben Horowitz’s distinction between good and bad organizations.

But how can we re-orient around what to remove? Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less offers three ways:

1. Be Clear About The Essential Intent

We can’t know what obstacles to remove until we are clear on the desired outcome. When we don’t know what we’re really trying to achieve, all change is arbitrary. So ask yourself, “How will we know when we are done?”

2. Identify the “Slowest Hiker”

Instead of just jumping into the project, take a few minutes to think. Ask yourself, “What are all the obstacles standing between me and getting this done?” and “What is keeping me from completing this?” Make a list of these obstacles. They might include: not having the information you need, your energy level, your desire for perfection. Prioritize the list using the question, “What is the obstacle that, if removed, would make the majority of other obstacles disappear?”

When identifying your “slowest hiker,” one important thing to keep in mind is that even activities that are “productive”— like doing research, or e-mailing people for information, or rewriting the report in order to get it perfect the first time around— can be obstacles. Remember, the desired goal is to get a draft of the report finished. Anything slowing down the execution of that goal should be questioned.

(The slowest hiker is a reference to Herbie in the business parable The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. More generally it can be thought of as the question what is keeping you back from achieving what you want? “By systematically identifying and removing this constraint,” McKeown writes, “you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential.”)

3. Remove the Obstacle

… The “slowest hiker” could even be another person— whether it’s a boss who won’t give the green light on a project, the finance department who won’t approve the budget, or a client who won’t sign on the dotted line. To reduce the friction with another person, apply the “catch more flies with honey” approach. Send him an e-mail, but instead of asking if he has done the work for you (which obviously he hasn’t), go and see him. Ask him, “What obstacles or bottlenecks are holding you back from achieving X, and how can I help remove these?” Instead of pestering him, offer sincerely to support him. You will get a warmer reply than you would by just e-mailing him another demand.

If you’re a manager or team lead, another thing starts to happen when you start removing obstacles. Not only does the output of the team increase but you’ll find that people like working with you a lot more.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less will help you sift the signal from the noise and focus on what really matters.

The Stoic Way of Life

The Stoic way of life is the expression that encompasses the Stoic’s attitude toward practical affairs. It really is “an anachronism,” writes Ludwig Edelstein in his book The Meaning of Stoicism.

It was Pythagoras who first taught a “way of life.” The Stoics usually speak of an “art of life,” an ars vivendi, not in the sense of any inspirational action but in the sense of a settled disposition, which makes man act with the certainty of an accomplished craftsman, which teaches him how to do things in an unvarying order.


From the very beginning Stoic teaching was interested in man in the context of his community.

Perhaps it is true that classical ethics taught man how to shape himself, that is, to shape his being as an artist shapes a statue. The harmonious personality was the aim of Epicurus also. Yet one often gets the impression that these ancient moralists thought of man as if he were isolated from others. This is not so of the Stoic, for whom man is a social being and can perfect himself only within the community of man and not just the community of citizens either. The highest ideal of the Stoic way of life, therefore, was to live with others. While it was the dream of the Epicurean sage to live hidden from the world, it was the duty of the Stoic sage to understand that he could never consider himself a private individual. Social obligations take precedence over individual tasks, and individual ethics is ipso facto social ethics. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Stoicism exercised such profound influence on Christianity.

Family Life

Generally speaking we owe much to Stoic ethics as they “imbued man’s actions with a new respect for human dignity.” For example, the Stoa first recognized the equality of husband and wife. They also believed that children were free to choose their own path and that slaves were people. At the time, these beliefs cut through the established Greek philosophical guard.

Not only did they hold that men and women have one virtue and that beyond and above the manly virtues there are human virtues which are valid for both men and women, but they considered matrimony to be much more than a community of the body, to be a community of the soul. The wife is the husband’s other self, his truest friend. He will, therefore, not marry for money or for family connections or even for beauty. What is important about married life is what contributes to the human qualities of both partners, the use of their common life. Nothing is further from the stoic attitude … than the point of view expressed by Shakespeare’s Petruchio “I will be master of what is my own; she is my goods, my chattels.”

Thus the first step is taken in acknowledging the dignity, the rights, and the humanity of the other person; and what is true of the husband’s attitude toward his wife is true also of his attitude toward his children. Their rights must be respected and especially their right to educate themselves and choose their own way of life. When Epictetus was confronted by a son who did not have his father’s permission to study philosophy, he was not afraid to defend the son against the father. The father’s rights and prerogatives are limited by the rights of the son, or rather the obligations of the one as well as of the other must be respected.

So what of slaves then?

This respect for the inalienable and indefeasible rights of the individual appears most clearly in the attitude prescribed with respect to the slave, the third member of the family in addition to parents and children. The slave, said Chrysippus, is a man hired for life. Slavery is nothing but subordination to the master; if it turns into possession of the slave by the master, it is lordship, and this is evil. As human beings, free men and slaves are equals.

The Workman

The Stoic defense of the workman, or laborer, is fascinating. The prevailing view at the time was that work was not disgraceful or dishonorable; it was a necessity. This necessity, however, gave you a free pass on virtue because you were, in effect, a servant of others. The Stoa changed this view and in the process, created a precursor to professional ethics.

Whether or not the preclassical centuries were free of contempt for manual labour, by the end of the classical era it had become something contemptible in democratic and oligarchical societies alike. Socrates’ defence of the workman on the ground that work brings neither disgrace nor dishonor is quite revolutionary, and so is the Pythagorean theory of work and workmanship. What is much more characteristic of the common attitude is Aristotle’s remark that the artisan is subject to limited servitude while the slave is subject to unlimited servitude. Between the two, then, there is only a difference of degree. Surely, in all early centuries there is no idealization of work as such. It is considered to be a dire necessity rather than an ennobling activity; and, most important, it precludes man from practicing moral virtue.

Stoic philosophy attributed to work a value of its own, however. Work is a natural human occupation and does not exclude man from a virtuous life; it is compatible with the moral order and forms a part of it, for morality can be realized not merely in performing the duties of the citizen but also in any other human action. Aristotle had allowed that workmanship may be noble or ignoble depending on the degree of virtue that it requires as an accessory; but he had declined even to discuss the question in detail in his Politics because that would be ungentlemanlike. For the Stoa it was axiomatic that in whatever station man may find himself it is possible for him to live up to moral rules.

… In terms of economic theory it means that the arts and crafts are no longer distinguished as less noble than the possession of wealth. Worker and capitalist are on the same level, so to speak. The relation between them becomes that of two rich men, equally independent, making use of their wealth, the wealth of the one being his skill or manual strength and the wealth of the other his money. There is also a change in the attitude toward the product of wealth and toward the worker. The classical age was concerned only with technical proficiency in the artist and with the product of his art or craft. Now the human qualities of that craftsman, his inner relation to his achievement and to his customer, his reliability, his wish to do right in the widest sense of the term, are made the main content of appreciation. This point is especially important. Aristotle can still put the aporia: will it not be necessary for artisans to have virtue, since they frequently fall short in their tasks owing to intemperance? But he decides that nothing can be done about this. While the owner of a slave is educated and becomes virtuous, the artisan who lives in limited slavery is outside the control of his employer; his virtue is personal concern.

Through Stoic teaching, work is moralized, however. A sense of responsibility toward it is enjoined upon everybody. How one behaves in the performance of one’s work is no longer a matter of indifference. The more character must, so to speak, shine through one’s doings; Soberness and temperance must shine through every activity. Thus an ethos of work and workmanship arises, unknown before or known at most to the political theorist who can speak of the official as a servant of the state or of the law.

Most important perhaps, the rehabilitation and the reshaping of men’s attitude toward manual work eventually leads to a more general theory of calling or vocation. The classical age knew nothing of what can be properly called professional ethics. That is, it was not understood that each profession imposes specific duties. For example, the physician must help his patient, be he free or slave, friend or enemy, and on no condition is he permitted to do any harm. The judge is not allowed to show favor to anybody, not even to the friend who may appear before him; impartiality is his specific virtue. These duties are imposed upon the member of the profession by the role he plays in life.


Forget Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, how about capital in the 4th century BC.

In the Stoic’s opinion, business too has an ethics of its own. To make as much money as one needs is fair but to steal from another what is his is against the human law, said Chrysippus (one of the main Stoics).

… Stoic philosophy initiated a reversal of the attitude of the wealthy to the poor and infused the ideal of humaneness with the virtue of generosity. …

Generally speaking, the thesis of the Stoics was that he who has money does not have it for himself, does not possess it or own it anymore than he owns his wife or his children or anything else. You have money for the benefit of your children, of your relations, of your friends, or the state, say Seneca. The rich man, to put it succinctly, is but the trustee of his wealth. Such a position was maintained by the Stoics without in any way casting doubt on the right of private property. Private property is a natural good; it is guaranteed by justice, which gives to everybody his own. The world is a theater with different seats, and one must not complain if one does not sit in the front row nor claim that one has a right to do so. Rights differ as men differ. The Stoa, therefore, opposed socialism and communism as they were preached in Hellenistic utopias, but it does not condone a theory of the laissez faire, to which Aristotle had already objected.

The Stoics were not exactly for the invisible hand either. Their approach, built on the foundation of community, is worth visiting, and learning from.

[T]hey asked the individual to learn that it is necessary for him to live for others and that he is born for human society at large, of which he must always feel himself to be a member rather than a fragment separated off. Here in humanity and not in the state, in the moral company of man, he is truly at home. He must take care of present and future as far as social problems are concerned; and the greatest sin of a human being is to say après nous le Déluge or, as the Stoics put it in the familiar words of a Greek poet, “it is wicked and inhuman for men to declare that they care not if when they themselves are dead, the universal conflagration ensues.”

We can add The Meaning of Stoicism to our growing collection of Stoic wisdom.

Contagious: 6 Reasons Things Catch On

Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger spent the last 10 years looking into what makes things popular. Questions like: Why are some stories, ads, and rumors more infectious than others? Why do some things go viral? The result is his interesting book Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

Aristotle pondered something similar. Of course he wasn’t worried about viral content but he did wonder what makes speech persuasive and memorable, lacking a retweet button, that was the only way it would pass from person to person. He believed the answer was three principles: ethos, pathos, and logos.

Discussing this, Maria Konnikova writes:

Content should have an ethical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a logical appeal. A rhetorician strong on all three was likely to leave behind a persuaded audience. Replace rhetorician with online content creator, and Aristotle’s insights seem entirely modern. Ethics, emotion, logic—it’s credible and worthy, it appeals to me, it makes sense. If you look at the last few links you shared on your Facebook page or Twitter stream, or the last article you e-mailed or recommended to a friend, chances are good that they’ll fit into those categories.

(Although there is a nuance. Ethos is about appealing to people’s character.)

This is rather broad and Aristotle never had the advantage/curse of big data. Berger did. Together with Katherine Milkman, they analyzed about 7,000 articles that appeared in the Times to determine what made some pieces catch on more than others. They identified two key features: how positive the message was and how much it excited the reader.

Since this initial look, Berger has continued to study and refine why things catch on. He’s come up with a formula of sorts: the six key steps to drive people to talk and share. In an interview, summarizing the book, he described the STEPPS as:

  1. Social currency: It’s all about people talking about things to make themselves look good, rather than bad
  2. Triggers: which is all about the idea of “top of mind, tip of tongue.” We talk about things that are on the top of our heads.
  3. Ease for emotion: When we care, we share. The more we care about a piece of information or the more we’re feeling physiologically aroused, the more likely we pass something on.
  4. Public: When we can see other people doing something, we’re more likely to imitate it.
  5. Practical value: Basically, it’s the idea of news you can use. We share information to help others, to make them better off.
  6. Stories: or how we share things that are often wrapped up in stories or narratives.

The irony is the better people get at headlines to make us click the less effective this formula becomes. “If everyone is perfectly implementing the best headline to pass on, it’s not as effective any more,” Berger says. “What used to be emotionally arousing simply isn’t any longer.”

Contagious: Why Things Catch On will help you understand why things go viral and how people rope you into clicking on sexy headlines.

The Tragedy Of The Commons

What is common to many is taken least care of, for all men have greater regard for what is their own than for what they possess in common with others. — Aristotle

The rules pay you to do the wrong thing. — Garrett Hardin

The Tragedy of the Commons is a parable that illustrates why common resources get used more than is desirable from the standpoint of society as a whole.

Garrett Hardin, introduces us to the The Tragedy of the Commons:

Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?” This utility has one negative and one positive component.

1) The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.

2) The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of 1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another. . . . But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

Greg Mankiw, in his Microeconomics text says:

Consider life in a small medieval town. Of the many economic activities that take place in the town, one of the most important is raising sheep. Many of the town’s families own flocks of sheep and support themselves by selling the sheep’s wool, which is used to make clothing.

As our story begins, the sheep spend much of their time grazing on the land surrounding the town, called the Town Commons. No family owns the land. Instead the town residents own the land collectively, and all the residents are allowed to graze their sheep on it. Collective ownership works well because land is plentiful. As long as everyone can get all the good grazing land they want, the Town Common is not a rival good and allowing residents’ sheep to graze for free causes no problems. Everyone in the town is happy.

As the years pass, the population of the town grows and so does the number of sheep grazing on the Town Commons. With a growing number of sheep and a fixed amount of land, the land starts to lose its ability to replenish itself. Eventually, the land is grazed so heavily that it becomes barren. With no grass left on the Town Common, raising sheep is impossible, and the town’s once prosperous wool industry disappears and, tragically, many families lose their source of livelihood.

What causes the tragedy? Why do the shepherds allow the sheep population to grow so large that is destroys the Town Common? The reason is that social and private incentives differ. Avoiding the destruction of the grazing land depends on the collective action of the shepherds. If the shepherds acted together, they could reduce the sheep population to a size that the Town Common could support. Yet no single family has an incentive to reduce the size of its own flock because each flock represents only a small part of the problem.

In essence, the Tragedy of the Commons arises because of an externality. When one family’s flock grazes on the common land, it reduces the quality of the land available for other families. Because people neglect this negative externality when deciding how many sheep to own, the result is an excessive number of sheep.

If the tragedy had been foreseen, the town could have solved the problem in various ways. It could have regulated the number of sheep in each family’s flock, internalized the externality by taxing sheep, or auctioned off a limited number of sheep grazing permits. That is, the medieval town could have dealt with the problem of overgrazing in the way that modern society deals with the problem of pollution.

In the case of land, however, there is a simpler solution. The town can divide up the land among town families. Each family can enclose its allotment of land with a fence and then protect it from excessive grazing. In this way, the land becomes a private good rather than a common resource. This outcome in fact occurred during the enclosure movement in England in the 17th century.

The Tragedy of the Commons is a story with a general lesson: when one person uses a common resource, he diminishes other people’s enjoyment of it. Because of this negative externality, common resources tend to be used excessively. The government can solve the problem by reducing use of the common resource through regulation or taxes. Alternatively, the government can sometimes turn the common resource into a private good.

This lesson has been known for thousands of years. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle pointed out the problem with common resources: ‘What is common to many is taken least care of, for all men have greater regard for what is their own than for what they possess in common with others.’

The Tragedy of the Commons is a Farnam Street Mental Model.