Monday, November 4, 2013

Aristotle on A Happy Life

By Virgil Carter

Is there really anything new under the sun?  Most non-profit organizations consist of a diverse and geographically dispersed of volunteers and staff, united in some common organizational purpose.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about the “Virtues” as a guide to living a “happy life”.  The more diverse a non-profit organization may be, the more important it is to have a “happy life”!

Author Deb Mills-Scofield, writes, “Look at your organization, your teams. You see people with a mix of traits; some are very courageous, others conservative; some live and breathe customer delight, others obsess with operational excellence. These are examples of the classic virtues — the Greek four of courage, justice, prudence and temperance, and the Christian three of faith, hope and love (or charity)”.

For successful organizational leadership and a “happy life” for an organization, here’s a brief summary of what Aristotle felt was important:

·         Courage:  It takes courage to challenge the status quo, to try something untried, to propose unprecedented solutions. Most disruptive innovations (products, services, supply chain, operations, management) take a lot of courage. Courage recognizes opportunity and leads change while managing risk (smart risk).

·         Faith:  Faith equals trust, which is based on our experience, on promises kept. It is increased with authenticity and honesty. It assumes worth (value) and worthiness (valuable) is aligned. Is Google’s market cap based on its computer servers and communication networks or on its algorithms, people, corporate culture and the belief, based on past experience, they will continue to produce worth, value.

·         Hope:  Hope is tied to faith. Hope looks ahead to the future and is rooted in facts, not fantasy. It balances the possible with the probable. Hope is based on experience, learning and application, so there must be freedom to fail. Learning from failure helps determine fact from fiction.

·         Justice:  Justice is the difference between fair and equal. Justice also applies the triple bottom line to innovate solutions that are meaningful and effective and preserve the environment — think of Patagonia, Toms of Maine, and Whole Foods. This directly affects your brand’s reputation.

·         Love:  Aristotle defined love in 3 ways: Eros (passion), Philos (friendship) and Agape (sacrifice, servant leadership). Think of “Voice of the Customer,” “Voice of the Employee,” and “Voice of the Community.” Passion is exhibited through excellent customer service (e.g., Zappos), social capital and servant leadership.  Love is all about creating and sustaining authentic customer value.

·         Prudence:  Prudence is about empowering people so the organization is agile and adaptable. This affects who and how you hire, train, develop and free your talent. It means you balance short, medium and long terms. It’s about assessing outcomes and outputs and can require courage. Prudence means your people know, and can impact, the processes and rules of the road and knowing “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.”

·         Temperance:  Temperance is Greek for “the middle way,” moderation, balancing competing interests. It applies to work-life fit, stakeholders, team’s diversity, policies for consistency but not constraint, long versus short term and accountability versus authority.

Your organization and teams may not have all of these virtues on an everyday basis, but hopefully it has (and uses) the virtues most critical for success of your various projects and activities.  If not, consider reviewing Aristotle’s ideas about the “Virtues”.  

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