How Aristotle Can Make You a Better Leader…Three Virtues Leaders Exhibit That Harvest Human Capital

If we’ve learned so much in the last 2,500 years, why isn’t there someone on your street smarter than Aristotle? Understanding a very ancient insight into human nature turns out to be a valuable in guide to becoming a better leader and avoiding a great management pitfall.

by Dave McKenna, Editor August 23, 2017

The Greek philosophers knew human nature. The great thinkers of ancient world may not have had our modern insights into natural phenomenon, but they were keen observers of the world and human behavior and laid the foundation for our world today.

Aristotle believed that human action was rooted in three uniquely human powers that separated us from animals. These are the power of the will, the intellect, and desire. These three aspects of our nature still reliable guides to understanding human motivation today. Understanding this distinction separates leaders from mere managers.

The quickest way to fail as a leader is to apply management techniques to leadership situations. The demands of leadership are qualitatively different from management tasks and the misapplication of otherwise good management practices to leadership challenges is the path to ruin.

When modern business types talk about human capital, they are really talking about the harnessing the human powers Aristotle wrote about. Literally everything of value on this planet was created through the application of these human powers. Financial capital is actually derived from and dependent on human capital.

The more effectively a leader can enlist these basic human aspects the more fully the leader will access the deep stores of human capital contained in a group, which is absolutely necessary to accomplish a greater purpose.

Unfortunately, most management techniques and practices focus on just one of the forms of human capital; the dimension of the will, and are silent on the more profound powers of intellect and of desire.

The will is the human capacity of discerning what is good and to pursue that good. So when a manager creates a system of rewards (like salary and bonuses) and penalties, (like reprimands and termination), the manager is proposing something good and inviting the person to use their power of the will to gain the proposed benefits by complying with instructions.

Nothing wrong with that. But if the leader stops there, they leave a majority of the group’s human potential untapped and limit the chances for success. To fully utilize a groups human capital, the leader my find ways to enlist their intellect and their passion.

The intellect is a person’s ability for reason, to solve unfamiliar problems, to be creative and to innovate. While desire is the deep human longing for the transcendent, the significant and meaningful. Desire is attraction human being have to be part of something larger than themselves. It is the call of the Infinite.

Learning the techniques of management is vital to successful endeavor, but there is also a danger. Management techniques can only access a fraction of the human capital available. If the manager fails to also learn the techniques of leadership they forfeit critical resources necessary for success. Many managers fail they don’t understand how to access all of the human capital available to them.

The techniques of leadership are of a very different nature from those of management because the human abilities the leader enlists are in a sense deeper. The human powers of the intellect and desire must be enlisted by the leader and volunteered by the person. It is impossible to coerce or mandate the contribution of the powers of intellect and the zeal of desire.

The key is this, management is about what you can “perfect”. Leadership is what you can “project”. In other words, leadership is about what others see in the leader and wish to adopt as their own. That is why leadership is about projection. It is about casting something that others can catch and run with.

Another way look at is that management is about what you know. Leadership is about what you believe. Good employees will do a good job for a good manager who knows what she’s doing. But for a person to invest themselves with passion (desire) and contribute game changing creativity (intellect), they need something more. They need to believe in something.

So a good manager must have knowledge. Using this knowledge they can develop good plans, and good procedures, and good measures, and good rewards, and proper penalties. A leader need something else. A leader needs more than knowledge. A leader must have virtue.

Please read Three Virtues All Leaders Possess