From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule. Aristotle
Aristotle was in no way an egalitarian, and according to him, humans are not equal. Perhaps he sounds autocratic, chauvinist, etc. from a liberal democratic framework that we have adopted in recent times. However, there is much to take away from his understanding of humans in reconstructing modern organizations, or for that matter, modern societies. In the context of this essay, what can organization learn from the leadership dyad framework of Aristotle – comprising of 'freemen' and those who are not?
Aristotle did not believe all humans have the intellectual capacity to pursue a virtuous life. Hence, he proposed his leadership dyad. Accordingly, there are two types of human beings – those whose lives are virtuous and rational; and those whose lives are directed by passion, whim, and social convention. To the former, he bestowed citizenship within the community, for they had the ability to enable the community to achieve its purpose. Accordingly, they were assigned roles of leisure in order that they might contemplate and act upon ultimate good.
As freemen, they were free from the necessities of work. To the latter, however, he denied citizenship, for they lacked the ability as well as the time to contemplate the ultimate good. Aristotle’s leaders were men of courage and temperance. They were learned. They were compassionate. They sought the ultimate good, not only for themselves but for all who were under their rule. Free from the tyranny of passion, their leadership was rooted in justice and virtue.
How is Aristotle relevant for businesses?
While Aristotle’s stratification seems simplistic in the democratic framework of our times, it did serve as a foundation on which many societies were built in the interim. As far as my understanding of the modern organizations goes, it is still as relevant as ever. Aristotle’s freemen are the ideal leaders in our organizations, who are expected to be men of virtue and reason. They are expected to be reflective and rational, thus leading to real action. Aristotle’s leader is one who, through deliberation, blends action with knowledge and in doing so, achieves the ultimate good for the organization.
The Freeman thinking; symbolic of Aristotle’s leadership, is actually a cultural proposition and needs to be scientifically cultivated in the modern organizational systems. This, in turn, will produce ripple effects across the organizational system and direct organizational behavior across the deliberation-action-knowledge conundrum.
The challenge for organizational development initiatives is to drive realistic actions across the various organizational systems, leveraging all the knowledge inherent in the system to blend it with right action and generate enough deliberation (upwards, downwards, sideways, etc.) across the organizational system. Freeman thinking has to be ingrained in the organization culture and the ultimate good has to be negotiated within this deliberation-action-knowledge conundrum.
But Aristotle’s dyad produces a significant second category of people who lack the freeman virtues and reason and the capacity to apprehend principles. Any organizational system, or for that matter any behavioral system, comprises of constituent members with varying capacities to apprehend principles. Hence, it is the interplay of these constituent members which assumes significance and ultimately enables the system to survive and grow. In this era of organizational citizenship and entrepreneurship, actions towards the ultimate good of the organization are a shared responsibility of all constituent members. It’s not confined to a select group of freemen.
Every member of an organization is expected to thrash out the organizational problems and demonstrate virtue in finding solutions for them. Self-serving behavior is denounced at all levels in an organization. Thus, Aristotle’s dyad is blurred to a large extent, while trying to delineate the freeman in the modern organizations. The Freeman thinking; symbolic of Aristotle’s leadership is actually a cultural proposition and needs to be scientifically cultivated in the modern organizational systems. This, in turn, will produce ripple effects across the organizational system and direct organizational behavior across the deliberation-action-knowledge conundrum.