Steward Leadership through Courage

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgCourage is a word that brings up a lot of strong images. Often these images are of military prowess, or of rescuing someone against all odds, or taking a stand against an overwhelming majority. These images help us see - and sometimes keep us from seeing. Plato's approach pulls our eyes in a different direction.

 

Plato has an interesting approach to courage - one that could help leaders who want to do good while doing well. He says that courage is a "belief concerning what is and what is not to be feared." (Republic IV.430, Modern Library edition (New York: Knopf, 1906, 1935, 1976, 1992).

 

Knowing what is to be feared - and what is not - helps us as we steward our organizations.

 

  • Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Courage, as such, keeps us from foolish risks. It also keeps us from being so risk averse that we get nothing done.
  • Courage, as Plato defines it, causes us to approach people for sales, marketing, or networking without playing on their base fears - their phobias and their "isms", in particular.
  • Courage presses us to do what is right, even when it is not convenient.
  • Courage even keeps us centered in lines of business that eschew using others' fears as leverage. We just don't sell people services or products based upon their irrational, unfounded fears. 
  • For those of us who work in consulting, courage gives us voice when those we are helping are stuck or spiraling.

 

As we have discussed these four civic virtues described by Plato (prudence, temperance, courage, justice), we have seen that they, while they may sound quaint to our ears, help us to counterbalance the prevailing sense of outrage that we often see. Moreover, they help us manage our organizations well.

 

As we consider courage, we realize that these four virtues may not yet complete the framework for solid steward leadership virtue. Three remain (but not of Platonic origin); we will discuss them presently.

 

I'm curious to see how you apply courage as you lead your organization.

How do you manage the use of virtue? If you wouldn't mind, e-mail me  and let me know how you see virtue at work.

 

We'd also like to provide you with a resource describing the balance of decision-making process: more reflective, or more active? Which way do you tend?

 

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

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Topics: steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, courageous, Leadership courage, virtue, courage

Steward Leadership and the Pursuit of Justice

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgAs leaders who want to "do good while doing well," we realize that "doing the right thing" is inherent to our organizational life. As we have spoken of virtue lately - whether in a general sense, or with the specifics of temperance and prudence - our focus is how virtue can make us better leaders. Virtue provides us an aspirational sense of self, not merely sets of rules or best practices that help us avoid embarrassment, lawsuits, or criminal charges.

 

Within the context of virtue, justice provides us with more than just the sense that we obeyed the law and that we conducted ourselves ethically. Those are, of course, basic components to justice - as long as the law is itself just, and our ethics not mere self-justification of our common practice.

 

  • Justice as virtue means that we do right by people on an individual basis.
  • Justice as virtue means that we also do right by people on an organizational basis - how our company treats its customers, shareholders - honestly, anyone it comes in contact with, whether individuals or other organizations.
  • Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Justice as virtue means that our company's cause for being has at its core a desire to make the world a better place. As we make the world a better place, we make it a better place for all people - not just some at the expense of others. The produces we sell, the services we provide, the causes we champion - justice says that we keep our eye on the betterment of all.

 

Justice, then, requires that our organizational life have more than mere profit motivation. Steward leadership means that profitability and sustainability factor in to virtuous justice organizationally; without profitability and sustainability, the expectation would be bankruptcy - whereby we cry for mercy that we cannot meet our just obligations. These things are not inherently in opposition. Nevertheless, how profit (or surplus, in the case of non-profits) is obtained is as much a question of virtue as whether an enterprise is sustainable.

 

(Related: 6 Reasons Why Changing Your Mission Statement Didn't Work)

 

Justice helps us as steward leaders measure our interactions with others and the quality of what we produce. Therefore, as virtue, it guides us toward greater steward leadership of ourselves and our organizations.

 

I'm curious to see how you apply justice as you lead your organization.

How do you manage the use of virtue? If you wouldn't mind, e-mail me  and let me know how you see virtue at work.

 

We'd also like to provide you with a resource describing the balance of decision-making process: more reflective, or more active? Which way do you tend?

 

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

 
 
 
 
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Topics: leadership, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, virtue, prudence, temperance, justice

Steward Leadership Through Prudence

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgLately, we've been talking about how Plato's four Civic Virtues are the basis for steward leadership of our organizations. We have looked at them generally, in the context of stewarding anger; and we have looked at temperance individually. Today, we look at prudence.

 

Prudence, or wisdom, should be a no-brainer for those of us in leadership. Wisdom applies not just to tactical leadership, but if we are to take Plato at face value (Republic, IV.428), wisdom applies to governing an organization - the overall policy-setting work, both as directed within the organization and out toward its clients, customers, constituents, or other stakeholders.

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Prudence is enshrined in the law as applied to various areas of business life - representing the application of care and diligence as opposed to negligence. This has the tendency to bend our definition of prudence away from wisdom and wise policy design and toward risk management - which itself is often code for risk avoidance.

 

Prudence in a broader sense, however, carries with it much more than the risk management aspects of policy creation. It holds a spark - even a divine spark - of creativity in the application of knowledge, experience, and empathy to situations at hand in light of a vision for the future. Of course, this vision for the future must not either be too excessively apocalyptic or quotidian, in the first place, lest it lead us out of temperance or prudence altogether. More often than not, the reason prudence is so diminished is not due to a lack of knowledge or experience, but because the vision for the future is somehow distorted or dark. This is the greatest barrier to the full pursuit of prudence in organizational life.  

 

(Related: Doing Good while Doing Well)

 

So applying prudence to steward leadership of our organizations we find:

 

  • Creativity will be present
  • (Good) Vision gives us context
  • Decisions will be made with adequate reflection and also with timely execution

 

I'm curious to see how you apply prudence as you lead your organization.

How do you manage the use of virtue? If you wouldn't mind, e-mail me  and let me know how you see anger, and virtue at work.

 

We'd also like to provide you with a resource describing the balance of decision-making process: more reflective, or more active? Which way do you tend?

 

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

 
 
 
 
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Topics: steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, virtue, prudence, Plato, temperance

Steward Leadership Through Temperance

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgTwo weeks ago, we reflected on what it means to be good stewards of anger. We concluded that virtue - a term we rarely hear these days - can inform our response to anger - whether our own or others'.

 

In Republic IV.427, Plato lists four civic virtues: prudence (or wisdom), courage (or bravery), temperance, and justice. Today, we are going to reflect on temperance as key to leadership. Temperance is a funny word with strong association to the movement in the 1920s United States to ban beverage alcohol; perhaps another word is better now (moderation or self-control come to mind); for now, though, we use it, if only to provoke reflection through unfamiliarity.

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! My 17-month-old son received a cardboard book about emotions as a Christmas gift this year. It describes how someone feels in different situations and then names those feelings. None of the emotions are judged; they are defined by example. Naming his emotions will help him in the first steps toward self-awareness. Eventually, he will be able to manage these emotions as they arise and respond to them. They will feel right in certain contexts, even as his response to those feelings changes.

 

Conventional wisdom says that what feels right is what we should do. This is commonly the philosophy of early adulthood as we explore new relationships, the freedoms of our newly-minted majority, and discover what delights, entertains, and attracts us.

 

(Related: Leadership - confidence, presence and curiosity)

 

Temperance takes a more seasoned approach to life. Temperance assumes that our desires and pleasures, while good, require some moderation. Some of that moderation is intensity, some is timing, some is boundary-setting. Temperance assumes that, as leaders, it is in our best interest to cultivate our will: our ability to choose what we do and when - and not merely to react. This tunes up our responses to reflect what we really want outside of the immediate moment, so that whether we tend toward reflection or tend toward going with our gut, there is a bit of space - a beat in time, perhaps - between our feelings and our actions.

 

We all know that reactivity is not leadership; it is the slave of circumstance and situation. Temperance works with our will so that our emotions, desires, and pleasures do not drive us to reactivity in ourselves - and even allow us to lead our own selves, not just others. Temperance allows us to express our emotions and desires in context and pursue pleasures to the degree they align with our overall values. This makes us whole, balanced people - an attractive leadership attribute.

 

(Related: Doing good while doing well)

 

As leaders we often have to make decisions in a split second. We don't necessarily have time to step back, close the doors, and reflect for a time. Temperance, and the disciplines that build it, gives us a much better chance of making good decisions. It's the worst feeling in the world to realize we made a decision out of anger, over-exuberance, fear, avoidance, or even greed, when we see the consequences burdening our present and future. Practicing the virtue of temperance gives us the space, even in the moment of emotion or desire, to make the right split-second decision that we won't regret (at least as much) down the road. Temperance gives both logic and emotion their place, but then allows both to defer to the will. This helps us to steward our organizations well.

 

I'm curious to see how you apply temperance as you lead your organization.

How do you manage the use of virtue? If you wouldn't mind, e-mail me  and let me know how you see anger, and virtue at work.

 

We'd also like to provide you with a resource describing the balance of decision-making process: more reflective, or more active? Which way do you tend?

 

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

 

 
 
 
 
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Topics: leadership, steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, leader, leaders, virtue, temperance

Steward Leaders: On Being Good Stewards of Anger

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgA few weeks ago, a particularly monochromatic vessel for a typically-caffeinated beverage from a particular nationally-known dispenser of such beverages made the news. First, it made the news because someone was outraged by the vessel's blankness. Shortly thereafter, it made news because many others were outraged that someone would be outraged in the first place. Finally, there was outrage that the outrage about the outrage had carried on so long, and was so pointless.

 

As leaders, we quickly discover that anger is a powerful tool - as well as a disruptive presence. Our own anger can rally others to our cause - particularly when our anger resonates with others'; our own anger can create space between us and those who oppose us as well. Anger and outrage give us the simultaneous power of push and pull, as well as, in many cases, some kind of moral high ground.

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! In American political discourse of late, we see outrage used by leaders of all branches and levels of government, both in the election process and while in office. Outrage has become a competitive sport - who can be the most outraged about what, and say or do the most outrageous thing to bring their outrage to light. Outrage polarizes and partisanizes, and then becomes outraged at the gridlock that results.

 

Our workplaces are often conflicted - "office politics", some cry; others have a management-union split; still others bring political, philosophical, family, or religious conflicts into the workplace. These can generate anger and contention among workers that reduces our organizational capacity to meet our goals.

 

(Related: Doing Good While Doing Well)

 

Left unchecked, anger, outrage, and rage devour everything in their path - and often violently. Feeding on them isolates people into smaller and smaller units - even dividing people against their own selves.

 

Steward leadership urges us to steward anger as well. Anger is both natural and powerful. It can be channeled to accomplish good things. It is firmly an appropriate emotional response to injustice. That's where the moral high ground comes in.

 

Anger separates, drains, and exhausts. Its only sustenance is finding something else to consume and push away. As steward leaders, we find ways to use anger creatively to motivate toward healthy, sustainable action - not just to draw others into a malevolent maelstrom. We find ways of using anger to put an end to violence, rather than turning violence toward others.

 

These days, we hear little of virtue - the term itself seems a bit Quixotic to our ears. Yet, with the need to steward anger, it seems apt. Plato's civic virtues: prudence, courage, temperance, and justice (Republic IV.427e) all, in their own way, help us steward anger. Prudence, or wisdom, helps us to choose what really should motivate us to action. Courage, as Plato says, helps us choose what should and should not be feared (ibid., IV, 430b). Temperance makes sure we are not just driven by our desires, but our desires driven by our will. Justice leads us to true judgement and reconciliation, not just using (self-) righteous indignation as a proxy for making things right.

 

Perhaps these virtues are the missing piece to what to do with all of our outrage.

 

I'm curious to see how you steward anger in your organization. How do you manage the use of virtue? If you wouldn't mind, e-mail me  and let me know how you see anger, and virtue at work.

 

We'd also like to provide you with a resource describing the balance of decision-making process: more reflective, or more active? Which way do you tend?

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

 
 
 
 
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Topics: steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, steward leadership, virtue, Anger, Starbucks cup controversy