Book Review “The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership”

Classical wisdom for modern leaders by Michael A. Soupios

Michael Soupios applies thoughts and practices from Greek philosophers to the field of leadership. I want to share eight of his ten rules – they are easy to write about yet challenging to live by when the going gets tough. May they invite you to reflect on and question as well as fine-tune your own leadership practices.

‘Know Thyself’ – Thales

Self-comprehension is a fundamental precondition for effective leadership, but you first have to overcome three hurdles:

  1. Society’s distractions that keep you from meaningful self-inquiry.
  2. Self-defense tendencies such as obscuring, distorting, and fictionalizing on behalf of a fabricated reality that fits your needs.
  3. Your tendency to seek out a maximum of pleasure (hedonistic principle), so why would you engage in painful and candid self-exploration and self-confrontation?

When your self-assurance becomes rash presumption, you turn from a valuable asset to a dangerous liability. If you take success for granted because of earlier success, complacency will follow. Success requires continuous effort and humility that acknowledges the possibility of defeat.

Office shows the person – Pittacus

The investment of power and authority in a person rapidly reveals their inner qualities. Power will reflect what no resume does: the person’s psychological disposition. Misuse of power can be a psychological deficiency: Power becomes a compensatory asset – a defense mechanism to counterbalance feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability. The abusive application of power (the need to control and dominate) becomes a way to attain a sense of security and confidence. Of the many potential shortcomings a leader can bring to an organization, arbitrary application of power is lethal: Criticizing, micromanaging, second-guessing, or bullying others creates a toxic and unproductive environment where people watch their backs and avoid risks.

Nurture community in the workplace – Plato

Community development and positive group sentiment are virtues that leaders must nurture by providing the right support and incentives. For this to happen, leaders have to conquer three obstacles and help their staff do the same: “Individualism” (I before We), a lack of willingness to critically self-assess and the myth of the lone, maverick, self-made genius.

Do not waste energy on things you cannot change – Aristophanes

Leaders must assume a posture of flexible response: Quick to take advantage of new opportunitiesand quick to discard practices that offer little prospect of benefit. Honest failure should be forgiven but intentional and hypocritical refusal to own up is very harmful. A leader’s capability to disregard a failing project and act accountable for failure is a reflection of his ego status and character. Doyou have the confidence and courage to acknowledge your limitations and misjudgments?

Always embrace the truth – Antisthenes

Effective leaders embrace the truth, in every situation. They encourage candid criticism throughout the organization, they are skeptical of flattering appraisals, and they don’t allow authority to stand between them and the truth. According to Antisthenes there are only two people who will tell you the truth about yourself: An enemy who lost his temper and a friend who loves you dearly. Sadly, organizations are rarely inclined to examine their own premises. Instead they want employees to endorse the prevailing system of beliefs. Challenging a leader’s decisions is uncommon but you need to ask yourself: “What do I gain with yes-men who passively accept my predigested views?” I invite you to be among the few who have the maturity and emotional security to invite and accept criticism and dissenting views.

Let competition reveal talent – Hesiod

Knowledgeable employees can be hired yet bringing out their talent and aligning talent with organizational interests requires an environment that allows staff to compete with each other in a constructive way. Leaders want to select individuals in whom contest is likely to generate high levels of enthusiasm and creativity.

Live life by a higher code – Aristotle

Aristotle believed that leaders with high moral standards lead an unusually principled life with a dutiful commitment to personal virtue. Leaders need to earn the trust of their followers for everyone to thrive. This trust doesn’t happen by accident. You earn it not through the power and authority that was assigned to you but through your character and your personal conduct: You invite and value contrarians and don’t hold grudges. You assist those who are in need and don’t ask or expect something in return while remaining calm in the face of crisis.

Always evaluate information with a critical eye – the Skeptics

When you assess information please remember: What was conventional wisdom only yesterday may no longer be valid today. You must consider the circumstances that shaped the information and critically examine the means by which it is conveyed. You want to watch for hidden agendas or political objectives and suspend judgment. Make sure to develop a critical mindset that accepts nothing at face value.

Lets close with Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living”.