Management Tips From The Ancient Greeks
This is the second post in our series ‘Management Lessons From Philosophy’. Last time, we talked about Plato’s School of Management.
This time around we’ll be examining what some of the other preeminent Greek philosophers can teach you. And yes, they can teach you something… honestly.
If you’d like to learn more about essential Management Skills, why not try our Management Skills for New Managers Course.
First up, the most famous of Plato’s students:
Aristotle – “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Quite self-explanatory really – doing something once doesn't make you excellent, it takes repetition and commitment. Practice makes perfect as they say. It’s why your mum forced you to spend an hour a night practicing the piano – she really believed you could have been a virtuoso. You broke her heart when you gave it up… shame on you.
This may seem obvious to us but think about it for a while and you’ll realise how few people actually heed this advice.
A sense of entitlement often prevents people from working hard – ‘talent’* is often celebrated more than hard-work in our culture.
*I say talent – I mean ability to just about hold a tune, tell a really good sob story and spend every Saturday night telling millions of people how you've ‘been on such a journey’.
How This Applies to Management
You need to practice at your craft to become excellent at it. Don’t assume because you managed to bag the promotion you've done all you need to do (if you did, I’m impressed you got the promotion at all). Now is the time when the hard work really begins.
Spend time reading management blogs, attending classes and brushing up on your knowledge of the discipline (kudos for reading this), but most importantly – do your job and do it well!
It’s also worth taking a look at this post for tips on being more productive.
Learn as you do, find out what works and what doesn't. Repeat the good things, try and stop the bad things and eventually good management practice will become second nature to you.
Don’t think it will be easy; that as long as you put in the hours you’ll be alright. Go in with that mindset and you're preparing yourself for mediocrity. If you really want to be excellent, challenge yourself regularly and constantly strive for more.
Be ready for tough decisions, some serious stress and probably some sleepless nights, but if what you want is to be the best you can be, all of it will be worth it… hopefully.
If all else fails, make sure you have a Grandma who ‘supported you all the way’ and a knack for singing tiresome 80s power-ballads.
Heraclitus – “You cannot step into the same river twice”
This is one of those quotes that makes you wish you were a 1960s hippy (or a hippy from any other decade…I’m not decadist) so you could get away with saying ‘woah man, that’s deep’.
An absolute zinger of a one-liner here from Heraclitus that sums up some of the biggest burning questions in philosophy: ‘Are we the same person as an adult as we were when we were a child?’, ‘Is reality only how we perceive things in order to make sense of the world?’ and the biggest of them all ‘What about if it’s one of those sand rivers like in that episode of Africa?’
It is a commentary on the human condition and the transience of existence… and boy was it a cool (pretentious) thing to have written on your (my) wall at uni.
How This Applies to Management
Be flexible and don’t be afraid of change. Change is the currency of good business (subtle pun alert in case you missed it) and you need to be able to respond calmly and rationally to any unforeseen circumstance that rears its head.
Your main role as a manager is making sense of the the tasks that lay ahead and being able to effectively delegate to your team.This means accepting things as they are rather than trying to change them yourself.
If the river is no longer the same as it once was – so what? Dust yourself down (or dry yourself off?) and get on with it. Real managers don’t sit on the bank hoping the flow will turn back their way, they dive in and fight the current (getting plenty of mileage from this metaphor) and swim upstream until they reach the source. The source in this case is the end of a project; I think.
Plutarch – “The wildest colts make the best horses”
Plutarch was an interesting fellow insofar as he was a bit Roman. By that I don’t mean he sometimes enjoyed bathing publicly or had a penchant for straight roads, I mean he actually became a Roman citizen in adulthood.
As he was born Greek though, he is allowed on this list. Yes he is – I make the rules.
What he’s saying here is that often it is the most difficult-to-handle people who are the most creative, intelligent and, well, fun. Sometimes it just takes the right handler to get the best out of them. And maybe the occasional lump of sugar.
How This Applies to Management
It’s quite likely you’ll have at least one troublesome staff member on your team at some point. You know the one, the guy that always points out your mistakes. Yes that’s right, the guy you fondly nickname *$%^
Well don’t start filling out the dismissal forms quite yet, it might just be the case that he could be your team’s secret weapon.
As a manager, you need to play to people’s strengths. If you've got a member of staff who is causing trouble, it might be because they’re unhappy with their role or don’t feel they have enough input.
Talk to them, ask them their opinion on things and make them feel valued. Even think about re-positioning them. You might just find that the wild colt becomes your trusty steed. Or you might find that he is still a *$%^ … but then at least you’ll know for sure.
It might be that you haven’t properly been listening to what *S%^ has been saying, in which case you need these Active Listening tips.
There’s plenty to learn from the civilisation that brought us, well, civilisation!
Remember you can’t take a horse to the same river twice and try and repeatedly make him drink. Or something like that…
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this edition of ‘Management Lessons From Philosophy’… next time we’re skipping out a pretty uneventful 1000 years or so and heading straight for the middle ages. Until next time, keep managing and keep philosophising!
If there’s anything about Management you don’t think you can learn from Philosophy, you’ll definitely be able to learn it on one of our many Management Training Courses.
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