Socrates on Leadership

by | October 30, 2009

Leadership is a “buzzword” in today’s business world. For instance, books, blogs, and seminars offer advice on how to acquire leadership skills to be a successful leader, despite the dearth of definition about “successful.” In addition, amassing skills in listening, communicating, directing, and writing a mission statement is usually the focus. Am I a leadership Curmudgeon? No. But the most important question is, why lead? Plato offers ancient advice that will help toward purposeful “academic leadership.”

I’m employing a stipulative definition for “academic leadership.” By “academic leadership”, I mean the internal qualities of learners that disposition them to demonstrate outward skills that distinguish them form others. Plato provides insight that will permeate learners to move in this direction. How?

Plato’s Apology captures the significance of asking the right questions and being committed to a life mission. In the Apology, Socrates is accused of leading the youth of Athens astray by teaching them about other gods, not the gods of the city states. Standing before the Athenian court, Socrates exhibits the apotheosis of leadership. What can learners glean from Socrates about “academic leadership?”

First, Socrates received a mission from the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle of Delphi charged Socrates with finding others who were wiser than him. It was Socrates’ life mission to question the wisdom of others and to examine himself, and he died for this mission. Likewise, learners need to discover their purpose for why they are doing a doctorate. That said, time is often the enemy. How? Technology, entertainment, and diversions gobble up time that could be used for self-examination. Socrates might say to us today, “Find a place where you can sequester yourself form tweets and Facebook, and spend time finding your life purpose.”

Second, Socrates used his skills to further his purpose in life. For Socrates, living for truth, using disputation, remaining teachable, and refraining from asking quotidian questions distinguished him from others. Likewise, learners can exhibit “academic leadership” in earning their doctorates. Will you be the one to submit work without errors? Will you be the one to engage the literature in a unique manner? Will you be the one to permeate learners’ minds with questions? Socrates found his purpose and used his skills to further his mission and separated himself from others. How can you find your niche in “academic leadership?”