19th century brought with itself several notable thinkers, who offered their views - some refreshing some controversial - to the world. Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher famous (infamous according to some) for his “God is Dead” quote, offers his readers many tips on leadership and management. Friedrich Nietzsche’s existential writings and beliefs can be found profoundly relevant to organizations. It is a surprise that Nietzsche, who stayed completely aloof from the society, wandering from one remote place to another, gave powerful insights on human behavior and purpose through his literature.
His writings strongly reflect upon the practices of the corporate scenario. Through his work, Nietzsche criticizes mediocrity. In his quintessential book ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, Friedrich writes about why it is important for one to break away from herd mentality and how one can “Become who you are!” by constantly striving to improve oneself.
There are enough of lessons and thoughts every professional can swear by from his writings.
- He advocates human suffering and hardships as he believes that it is only through pain and suffering an individual discovers what he is truly capable of.
“You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame; how could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
- He asks people to be wary of the conventional ideas related to good and evil: Nietzsche’s distinctive ideology pertaining to good and evil created much controversy. He believed that the way most people were taught to distinguish between moral and immoral is largely misleading. An HR professional must be mindful about such distinctions to avoid making biased and unreasonable judgments.
In his book Beyond Good and Evil, he writes “One must shed the bad taste of wanting to agree with many. "Good" is no longer good when one's neighbor mouths it. And how should there be a "common good"! The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value. In the end it must be as it is and always has been: great things remain for the great, abysses for the profound, nuances and shudders for the refined, and, in brief, all that is rare for the rare.”
- He makes an unbridled attack on mediocrity: Every organization is a sucker for high-performing employees. In his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he makes a prickly remark on mediocre individuals “All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment…”
- He inspires creativity: “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” – Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The word ‘chaos’ represents the creative potential within structure and the fundamental nature of the world. Leaders must thoughtfully promote creativity as it fosters employee and organizational growth.
The self-assertive German philosopher was misunderstood for his anti-religious beliefs but one must admit that Business ethics have not simply cropped out of thin air. Every HR practitioner must read and try to understand the gifts of modern philosophy to understand human values, ethics and purpose. After all, management is nothing but philosophy in practice. Existentialism, as a school of philosophy, will help people understand how life can be infused with meaning and purpose, and that each one of us can make a unique contribution to this world.