Eudaimonia and the Solarium Leader:
Today’s leadership industry is loaded with advice, models, and theories on how to lead like a Navy SEAL, a Silicon Valley CEO, a rogue, a pirate, etc., yet it appears much of today’s leadership advice can be traced back to ancient philosophers. The ideas of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sun Tzu, Lao Tzu, and Marcus Aurelius resonate as loudly today as they have at any point in history. What leaders need to know can be found in these great thinkers.
Leadership concepts are not a panacea. Exceptional leaders understand not only what it means to lead and set direction for an organization, but also how to think creatively and how to craft strategy. Today’s world is increasingly complex and what worked in the Industrial Age might work today but is not optimized for the competitive environment we face and will most definitely fail in tomorrow’s wicked environment.
In 36 years of service a predominant theme underscores leadership and service—eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is a Greek word literally consisting of the words “eu” (good) and “daimōn” (spirit) commonly translated as happiness; however, human flourishing is probably a more accurate translation. Taking eudaimonia and crafting a leadership philosophy around leading, innovating, and strategizing forces a leader to develop oneself and others toward their highest level in order to flourish. Flourishing is simply a state where people experience positive emotions, positive psychological functioning, and positive social functioning while living within an optimal range of human performance.
I have spent years reading, studying, and researching leadership thoughts, theories, and concepts without finding one capable of satisfying every condition. Until an individual takes responsibility for leading and developing himself or herself, leading beyond that will not achieve the levels demanded by today’s high performing organizations.
Eudaimonia begins with oneself and cannot go beyond this until the leader achieves an individual level of flourishing. For a person to achieve positive emotions, positive psychological functioning, positive social functioning, and the ability to live within an optimal range of human performance, one must invest in extreme self care—or internal leadership. Self care is not about pampering oneself or narcissism, but about tending to one’s mind, body, and spirit in order to ensure some semblance of personal hardiness and resiliency.
The ancients believed in the concept of knowing oneself. The Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” is one of the Delphic maxims inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The idea of knowing oneself to lead oneself is the first of three sub-themes of eudaimonia. Next is leading yourself to lead your team, and finally creating organizations where the leader and followers flourish (diagram below).
Below is a three phased approach to achieving a leadership philosophy based on eudaemonia. Phase one is internally focused on developing a leader’s personal hardiness or resilience. Phase two is a unique leadership construct designed to assist leaders in assessing their personal strengths and talents while doing the same for those around them. Phase three addresses how to utilize the skills discovered in phase two toward a common good or flourishing of the organization and leaders.
PHASE 1: MIND, BODY, SPIRIT and HARDINESS
The ideas of hardiness or resiliency and Mind, Body, Spirit (MBS) are concepts I learned as a cadet. In combat, intense training environments, rigorous academic programs, and years of command, the investment in mind, body, and spirit served well. It was never perfect and I have learned far more from failures than I have ever learned from successes.
A disciplined approach to self care and maintaining the triad (mind, body, spirit) through an aggressive fitness program, a regimented personal learning strategy, and a unique spiritual development scheme which includes meditation, reflection, and exploration—is required.
As a leader explores a mind, body, and spirit developmental program, it is a journey down a road to self-knowledge and understanding. Of course this MBS concept is only a first step and falls short of truly knowing oneself. Carl Jung’s work in the late 19th Century offers an interesting typology used to help many leaders begin to understand how they think, relate, and process information in a competitive leadership environment. The mother/daughter team of Myers and Briggs further refined Jung’s concepts allowing leaders a deeper insight to their personality typology.
PHASE 2: A LEADERSHIP CONSTRUCT
A: KNOW YOURSELF to LEAD YOURSELF—The Internal
A deep understanding of oneself is foundational to leadership. For many years and at least during one command, I was frustrated when people did not understand my vision, strategy, and desire to innovate and improve our organization. Through study, research, and Jungian Typology, I was quick to realize people are very different from one another and only about 8% of Americans share my typology. No wonder translation was difficult and speaking louder was not the correct answer.
B: LEAD YOURSELF to LEAD YOUR TEAM—The External
In the above example, my ability to achieve positive emotions, positive psychological functioning and positive social functioning increased once I understood my tendencies and typology. In other words, it was not that I was wrong, I am just different. In leading a team or a squadron, I was forced to wrestle with my weaknesses and find others who possessed strengths to compliment those weaknesses. I began seeking cognitive diversity. While understanding a need to steer away from a natural desire to engage people who possessed a similar outlook on life—organizational success was achieved in moving towards deeper diversity. The key was finding individuals who processed information in a different manner—which could potentially lead to conflict. The key to success lay in the healthy conflict.
C: CREATE ORGANIZATIONS WHERE PEOPLE FLOURISH—The Future
Once we developed a cognitively diverse team that fully embraced healthy conflict—eudaimonia slowly developed. Members understood and embraced their differences not as weaknesses but as strength. We became better for our differences, not our similarities. It should not be a stretch to understand how this diverse culture led to positive emotions, positive psychological functioning, and positive social functioning.
PHASE 3: EUDAIMONIA EXECUTION
The best leaders understand what it means to lead and how to enable those they lead to flourish. Once we established a culture of eudiamonia, we pondered where to engage it. There are a myriad of leadership definitions, but the Philosopher King, Marcus Aurelius offers:
A leader approves of nothing false or uncertain
Leadership directs its impulses only to acts for the common good
A leader limits desires and aversions only to what is in his/her own power
[A leader] embraces everything nature assigns.
(MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 8.7”)
Direct peoples’ unique skills not only towards positive leadership, but towards envisioning and building a brighter future—one that outlasts a single person’s time in the organization.
Leaders claim to value creativity, but often harbor biases and perpetuate environments that discourage new ideas. People will not flourish in such an environment.
Established leaders frequently fail to recognize the merit of innovative ideas. Their expertise and success often leads them to devalue novice or outsider contributions. Large organizations tend to value concrete, measurable outcomes over creativity, and their members may not want to be viewed as nonconforming thinkers.
Leaders may not realize that their organizations underlying attitudes and practices block creativity or that its work environment stifles its most brilliant minds. However, leaders must acknowledge a culture problem exists. Leaders who use the skills and attitudes of great teachers (Socrates, Sun Tzu, Aristotle) spur creativity and unlock creative potential.
We all have the ability to create. it is simply how and what we create that looks different based on a deep understanding of who we are. Implementing creative concepts requires a leader’s strategy. I use the word strategy as a larger plan utilizing ways, means, and ends designed to achieve a major or overall aim. Ends being the strategic outcomes or end-states desired. Ways being the methods, tactics, procedures, practices, and strategies to achieve the ends. Means being the resources required to achieve the ends; troops, weapons systems, money, political will, and time.
A HISTORICAL EXAMPLE: THE SOLARIUM LEADER
In my research as a fellow at Stanford University, I was interested in the intersection between leadership, strategy, and creativity. I examined US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s approach to recrafting a strategy already in execution. Eisenhower inherited the Cold War and a financial burden in defense spending America could not pay. The President had a keen understanding of his strengths and weaknesses and built three highly diverse teams to tackle the wicked problem of grand strategy as the West faced an increasingly aggressive USSR. Eisenhower knew himself, led his teams, and created an organization (the national security council) where members flourished. The President instilled a sense of creativity, which in turn produced an enduring strategy, allowing the West to flourish for many decades—eudaimonia.