Philosophy for Business


Philosophy for Business
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Ethical Dilemmas
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Launched on 2 November 2003, Philosophy for Business is an e-journal published by the International Society for Philosophers, looking at philosophical and ethical aspects of business practice.

We are aiming for a wide circulation to companies and corporations around the world, as well as academic philosophers.

In order to gain the widest possible readership, articles should be written in simple, non-technical language. The target length is 2500 words.

Some themes that we will be looking at:

   Globalization and monopoly
   Is business ethics possible?
   Philosophy of economics
   Practical ethics
   Idea of a code of conduct
   Freedom of speech
   Industrial democracy
   Whistle blowing
   Ecology and sustainability
   Education and health
   Business and the law
   Tax avoidance and evasion

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Geoffrey Klempner


Marco Senatore

Peter S Borkowski

Dena Hurst

Sean Jasso

International Society for Philosophers
[back to archive]

P H I L O S O P H Y   F O R   B U S I N E S S           ISSN 2043-0736

Issue number 3
28th December 2003


I. 'Moral Philosophy and Business' by Mike Parry

II. 'Response to Mike Parry' by Robert Dunham

III. 'Towards a Philosophy of Leadership' by Leif-Runar Forsth



In this issue Robert Dunham responds to Mike Parry's article, 'Moral Philosophy
and Business' which originally appeared in Philosophy Pathways Issue 54, 23rd
March 2003.

Also in this issue, Leif-Runar Forsth from Norway takes a searching look at the
concept of Leadership, concluding that a definition must take into account, not
just how word word is used, but also our normative interest in making better

If you have any thoughts about these articles, or any of the articles published
in the first two issues of Business Pathways - or if you have an idea for an
article that you would like to write - please contact me at

May I take this opportunity to wish contributors and readers a happy and
productive 2004! 

Geoffrey Klempner



Whilst my student contemporaries were studying the works of Hobbes, Kant,
Spinoza and Russell I was selling advertising space, motivating sales teams and
latterly sitting on company boards. I have spent most of my working life in a
world where an individual's worth is mainly assessed by the influence he or she
can have on the growth and profit performance of an employer or client's company.

Some years ago I used to share regular lunches in and around Covent Garden and
Soho with a great friend Paolo, who worked as an International Client Director
in that modern version of the 'Tower of Babylon', an American advertising
agency. Paolo, despite working at the dilettante end of international
marketing, is a philosopher of long standing. During our lunches he constantly
challenged my views on life and on my role and responsibilities in business.
With his encouragement and mentoring I started reading about ethical and
philosophical issues. My interest grew and I started to think more about what
constituted a 'good' and harmonious relationship between all parties affected
by the business world.

Until I met Paolo in my late 30's, I accepted without question that it was
right to focus my energy and attention (at work anyway!) on delivering year on
year growth and maximising profits for my employers. I recognised that my own
success would follow from the results that I delivered. It was as simple as
that and generally it still is. Neither I, nor any of my colleagues or
superiors debated the ethical issues involved in schemes devised to take
advantage of a competitor's weakness or extract more profit from our customer
base. It was war out there. 'Do it unto him before he does it unto you.' Anyone
raising ethical issues would have been marked down as a wimp.

Any business boss can make a strong case for the view that agonising over the
impact of one's business decisions on the health of a competitor weakens your
effectiveness. Similarly, dithering over whether you should provide goods or
services at the cheapest price you can stand, rather than the highest price the
market will tolerate, gets in the way of maximising profits (incidentally, any
good marketer will tell you that obtaining the best combination of price per
unit and volume sold, usually generates the biggest return!) That's the kind of
calculation astute business people make all the time. Depending on which side of
the fence you are sitting on it's either 'sophisticated marketing' or hard nosed
exploitation of the customer.

So, as a 30-year business veteran, I understand the justifications for
unsentimental decision making. There certainly is more virtue in a
straightforward, profit-oriented approach than there is in a hand wringing,
hypocritical 'this is hurting me more than it is hurting you' attitude, which
often accompanies brutal decisions concerning staff or troubled suppliers.

Despite that, is there any room for, or interest in, greater consideration of
how we treat colleagues, customers and suppliers in business? Is there real
interest, within the senior ranks of business, in discussing personal ethical
standards and the wider impact on individuals, society and the environment of
the products we manufacture and the ways in which we market them? Superficially
at least, the prognosis does not look good for any campaign aimed at introducing
more training in, and discussion of, ethical and moral issues within companies.

Just take a look at these 'one liners' on business, taken from a public
speakers self-help book. There's lots more where these came from.

   "Never do business with friends or neighbours."

   "Make friends of your clients but not clients of your

   "Trusting a lot has ruined a lot."

Then, read the business and finance pages of any national newspaper. Your
jaundiced view will be further reinforced by stories of greedy directors of
under-performing public companies awarding themselves million pound pay
packets, misrepresenting their company performance, in order to enhance their
own rewards, or presiding over corporations that exploit third world workers.

The net result of such behaviour is to engender cynicism in the honest souls
within companies that have the misfortune to have such leaders inflicted upon
them. Shareholders and potential shareholders, who could be valuable investors
in new enterprises, are also not immune from the disillusionment that is likely
to result from a regular reading the business pages of the national and
international press.

On Friday March 7th 2003, The Daily Telegraph carried the results of a UK
survey by YouGov into the perceived trustworthiness of the professions. On a
net trust rating (calculated by subtracting the negative percentage score from
the positive) ministers in government came out with a lamentable score of minus
49 per cent and directors who run large companies fared even worse, being right
at the bottom with minus 56 per cent.

Not much fertile ground to be found there then, for the nurturing of ethical
behaviour or for philosophical contemplation of what constitutes a 'good life'.
More a message of 'greed is good' and a definition of 'a good life' being one
spent accumulating the maximum amount of money one can, irrespective of the
collateral damage.

Writing recently in the Sunday Times, a senior staffer in a high profile
eco-charity said he was saddened by the lack of attention paid to ethical
studies in the content of an MBA course that he had recently undertaken. He
took the course primarily to get the measure of the type of executive that he
would encounter in forthcoming campaigns and money raising initiatives. He
considered that his fellow students left the course no more inclined to think
about what constituted a 'good life' than when they joined the course a year

A quick scan through the indexes of more than 50 business skills books that
inhabit the shelves of my office bookcase unearthed only one containing
references to 'ethics or ethical behaviour', even though several of these books
teach leadership and motivational skills.

A notable exception is a new book by David J Cooper (Associate Dean for
Enterprise in the Faculty of Business and Informatics at Salford University),
entitled 'Leadership for Follower Commitment.' David's excellent book contains
no less than four references to ethics.

I quote pages 32/33:

   "What would develop follower commitment (to a leader) is an
   understanding that one's own needs are an integral component
   of the organisation's Value system. Such consideration
   introduces ethical dimensions of 'Rights' and 'Universalism'
   (Weiss, 1966)."

Cooper goes on to remind us that Weiss, when referring to Universalism, stated
that: "Moral authority is based on the extent to which the intention of an act
treats all persons as ends (not means) in themselves and with respect." Weiss
also stated that: "Managers who overlook the rights of even one individual or
group may jeopardise the implementation of a decision, policy or procedure."
Weiss recognised that ethical behaviour has positive connotations in terms of
business performance. In David Cooper's book ethical behaviour is also endorsed
as a key to unlock enthusiasm and enterprise in staff.

David Cooper also makes reference to John Adair's book, 'The Action Centred
Leader' (1973). Adair suggested that aspiring leaders must look after the key
interlocking aspects: task needs, group needs and individual needs. He suggests
that people will follow more enthusiastically if they feel that their needs are
integral to the organisation's value system. Thus an ethical dimension is

Adair, in another great little book 'Effective Leadership' (1983) quotes the
Headmaster of Eton College; "if you trust the boys they will let you down - but
if you don't trust them they will do you down." A half-hearted, rather cynical
support for the value of trust in a relationship, but support non-the less.

Much as it may be a worthy cause, as these authors argue, it may nevertheless
seem that anyone hoping to promote the value of fostering ethical standards and
a more philosophical approach to business decision making faces an impossible
task, particularly if the targeted companies are being asked to pay for this

Despite this generally negative picture of the value that is placed on moral
and ethical debate, in the business decision-making process, I believe that
such issues are rising to the surface. The first hand evidence I have, drawn
from the commercial training courses that I run and business contacts I deal
with (admittedly a relatively small sample) suggest to me that once you open
people's minds, (particularly young people) to moral and ethical issues, just
as Paolo did for me over 20 years ago, they are excited by the ideas and want
to hear more. Their minds take flight, they realise what they have been missing
and are changed forever, if only in a small but positive way.

It should not really be a surprise that this reaction is so common. Younger
executives are feeling the remorseless pressure to deliver at all costs much
earlier in their business life than was the case in previous generations. They
are also more concerned about work-life balance that my generation was. I work
with a number of late 20's and early 30 year olds who are already looking for a
way out, at a stage when they would have been hungry and full of ambition, 20
years ago.

They are now also exposed to much more evidence of the negative consequences of
the actions of political despots and greedy international companies. Even if
they had never given it much thought before, they can quickly grasp the
potential impact on their lives and the lives their young children will lead in
the future.

Ironically, virtually every commercial sales training course, stresses the
importance of trust in the establishment of fruitful, long lasting
relationships with customers. How do we cement relationships with our clients
and prevent them from being stolen away from us? We are reminded of it (perhaps
more necessary now in the face of falling attendance at Sunday Schools) because
demonstrating one's honesty and decency to clients and potential clients,
through actions, pays commercial dividends. It is a shame that we do not
generally extend the 'relationships' lesson further and encourage debate on
moral/ ethical issues in more company training suites.

It is in society's interests that people of influence in companies; young
people who will shape the future policy of their companies, should think more
about and stimulate debate about ethical questions, vis a vis their company
policies. I am not suggesting that they will find pat answers, but just being
involved in the debate, particularly if it is chaired by a wise and inspiring
councillor, will raise their awareness of the bigger picture. The next time
they are creating an aggressive marketing campaign, the objective of which is
to prey on some human frailty or suck money out of the pockets of people who
can ill afford it, it may just make them stop and think.

The choice of subjects for these debates is endless. It could start with
subjects such as these:

   "Is it right to continue manufacturing and promoting sales
   of cigarettes when recent estimates suggest cigarettes kill
   5 million worldwide every year?"

   "Where are the limits, if any, to personal freedom. If we
   want to make an environmentally damaging product and
   customers are clamouring to buy it, what right does anyone,
   or any group have to try and stop us?"

   "Is it right for companies to increase and then prey upon
   the insecurities of western women, to promote the sale of
   intimate deodorisers?"

   "Should rich and powerful western pharmaceutical companies
   sell lifesaving drugs to poor African countries. Should
   they surrender patent protection to allow the production of
   affordable products for these markets? If they do what
   impact will this have on future investment in new (better)
   products? Does the fact that these poor countries are run
   by corrupt rulers absolve us from any responsibility to

It should include issues closer to home concerning relationships between staff,
such as "Where should your ultimate loyalty lie?" or "Where does clever
marketing end and exploitation begin?"

There is almost no limit to the interesting issues that have relevance to the
business world and which are being acted out every day.

We know that there are no pat answers to these and a host of similar questions.
That makes the debate more exciting and challenging. The uncertainty, the lack
of a definitive answer is itself an important part of why commercial companies
should encourage debate of such issues. Apart from resolving the specific
issues under discussion, participation in the debate results in better, more
rounded people. People who will question complacency and bring more knowledge
and a more open mind to bear on the next difficult problem that they (and the
company) have to face.

One of the biggest challenges in any 'advanced' materialistic, western society
is persuading people to change the way in which they measure 'a good life'. We
cannot possibly sustain our present rate of consumption and despoliation, let
alone see it duplicated across the currently less materially advanced parts of
the world.

In the real world we have to recognise that senior business managers are still
tasked with making a business case for all the money that they invest in
training or any other activity. They are not going to lay out good money for
some 'hippy dippy' training that will land them with more troublesome, less
compliant workers, who question the companies motives at every twist and turn.

We have to appeal to their self-interest and convince company decision makers
that they will enjoy measurable net benefits by embracing a more adventurous
attitude towards how they develop the skills of their staff. If they encourage
a creative debate about the 'rightness' or the decency of their actions, and
act positively on reasonable proposals for change, the end result will be more
effective worker. A worker who is happier, more productive, and better able to
establish and sustain fruitful relationships with colleagues and customers. A
worker who has exciting new ideas to contribute, rather than waiting to follow
the company's lead.

Furthermore, in an age of fierce competition and over supply in most markets,
the quality of ones staff is a highly effective differentiator from one's
competitors. A company chairman may be committed (by previous levels of
investment) to producing a 'me too' car for the next 3 years. He is not
committed in the same way to duplicating the present performance levels of his
staff over the next 3 years. People are highly adaptable and flexible. An
imaginative training programme and change of culture can quickly transform
them, galvanise them into action and set them apart from and above their

Therefore we can with some credibility claim that:

   i. A high standard of ethical behaviour will help cement
   relationships with staff and customers.

   ii. Encouraging bright staff to introduce relevant
   philosophical questions into discussions of future strategy
   could unlock groundbreaking ideas.

   iii. In a world full of competitors, companies that foster
   and value the creation of new ideas attract the kind of
   people that really make a difference, people who give an
   organisation an edge over the pack.

   iv. Word gets around. Clients don't live in isolation. They
   talk to potential clients. Then, new business flows, as if
   by magic.

Training that can deliver such benefits makes hard business sense and if
embraced by enough businesses could make a significant contribution to changing
the business world for the better.

So, there is potential for business training in matters philosophical and
moral. Let us hope that we can convince more business leaders of its potential
value. It would be great fun delivering it! I hope that some Pathways readers
will respond to my article and help me to make a contribution to this process.

(c) Mike Parry 2003




"Profits: the original fruit from giving satisfaction."

Straightforward business has surely always been the basis of material exchanges
and progress, particularly as driven by its inbuilt profit motive. This gives
mutual satisfaction and should absolutely be a good outgoing facet of human

An experienced businessman and manager friend (DH) has crystallised my
observations on practical financial activities and of scandals of unethical
behaviour and policies with the dictum: “Profit is always an ethical aim.”

One may reflect:

1. Trade as such is expected by each side to benefit itself on an expected time

2. Trading can and should flow easily from natural human motives, between
people who are harvesting reciprocal benefits - if they know the interests of
their own side. 

3. Intuitively, any trader or trading company will set aside surpluses, today
as Profits. Farming - dealing with Nature - follows the same pattern. 

4. Profits in the hands of Companies or equivalent (even Universities!), are
proudly converted to Capital, by analogy with a subsistence farmer putting his
gains into 'plant', e.g. buildings, for use on a longer timescale.

This optimistic analysis points to the central place of gradually gained PROFIT
in smooth, ideally steady-state dealings, giving Company motivation, with timing
of ongoing decisions a significant management variable. Managers further can
initiate adopting new concepts of and within the business, in part relaunching
them.  This authority is liable to separate criticism, perhaps for inefficiency
rather than crime.

Some concerted company policies trade unethically on proneness of customers to
buy products that harm the customers interests. Notoriously, to trade in
tobacco is to supply addicted and so weakened persons with a harmful
consumable.  This is an offence against the clear principle of natural
business, that it should be between mutually respecting equals, even if
sometimes playfully testing the other.  The fault clearly lies in the customers
character for not minding their own material interests - or doubly in the
historical case of systematic slavery, between the pushing trader in abused
victims, and the conniving purchaser. (The slave trade may be seen as a
primitive use of a natural but disrespectful relationship accepted by some
downtrodden adults.)

In the case of tobacco or addictive drugs  the trade is naturally monitored and
accepted to be controlled by the party responsible for (=answering for) public
health, namely the national government. Investment by the general public in
tobacco shares is meanwhile inhibited and the stigma of gain from encouragement
of smoking deservedly complicates and distorts the motivation of the firm's
agents.  It is to be expected that these firms' agents suffer embarrassment to
an unwelcome extent in their private lives. (Tobacconists serve a
sub-population, I feel, within the norms of their community.  More particularly
their workflows are smooth, as good business is.)

Abuse of profit by directors may commonly lie in stealing its resulting
Capital.  Inter-company dealings as when they represent their companies to do
deals exchanging company commitments and contracts with trade-offs for
themselves, seem more artificial and mechanical  In such dealings they operate
outside the profit-earning functions of the business, moderated only by any
unusual shareholder intervention, hopefully by their own consciences, plus the
adage, "Don't kill the Goose that lays the Golden Egg," where the compounding
sin lies in timing a 'cut and run'.

The search for Profit needs the energetic work of willing Agents truly on
behalf of the Company as it stands.  For effectiveness this outgoing arm of the
business logically  must find:

1. Proactive initiative (or Doing, as promoted in 'Doing the Business' David
Hall, Virgin books, 2002),  and product development (from profits). 

2. Agents' morale and cooperation, which largely depends on profits.  As
emphasised by David Hall, these are most enhanced, for deep motivation and
company loyalty, by a) job satisfaction; b) job variation; c) regular
promotion  - and a focus throughout on a good Company Mission, relevantly
formulated. Agents accordingly need to have learned the nature of national and
even international business, to comply seamlessly with policy, and regularly,
stimulated by a share in the Company's relative success, to offer their added
value to customers.

One may perhaps conclude from this simplified view that most unethical business
behaviour is 'willfully distorting natural flows, for personal advantage' and
particularly stealing capital from companies gains, taking advantage of
customers' misplaced demands, or petty squandering of profits.

An inclusive conclusion is that, in working for any company in business for
profit, agents are part of team working to satisfy customers.  They should
always work to maximise company profit, seeing this as an honourably evolved
process, but have an eye to the effects of the trade, for which controls exist
for which they have a voice with everyman.


Footnote: Not-for-profit enterprises seem to me to gain fine rewards simply
from adding goodwill value, which in keeps suitable enterprises going, with,
however less flexibility or muscle. 

(c) Robert Dunham 2003



1. Introduction

Almost everybody agrees that leadership is important not only for the people
and organizations that are lead, but for the future of humanity. It is also
easy to agree that good leadership is important. But there the agreement stops.
There is no common agreement on what is good leadership or even of the meaning
of the word "leadership". Rost (1991:70) examined 312 books and articles on
leadership and found 110 definitions of leadership. Some examples from Rost
(1991) illustrate the great discrepancy between the different definitions. 

     "The ability to impress the will of the leader on those led
     and induce obedience, respect, loyalty and cooperation."
     Moore (In 1927)
     "A process of mutual stimulation which, by the successful
     interplay of relevant individual differences, controls
     human energy in the pursuit of a common cause." Pigors (In
     "Leadership is a process of influence which involves an
     ongoing transaction between a leader and followers."
     Hollander (In 1978)

One reason for this confusion is that many different professions have
contributed to the field of leadership with their special points of view.
Examples are anthropology, biology, economy, marketing, medicine, philosophy,
physics, psychology, sociology, religion and zoology. Another reason is that
many definitions are strongly ideological biased. A third reason is the
enormous amount of literature on leadership. Bass (1981) gives 4.725 references
to works on leadership in the twentieth century. Since 1981 the number of works
has exploded. Burns (1979:2) concludes in his book "Leadership" which won him
the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award: 

     "Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood
     phenomena on earth". 

Burns (1979:2) also concludes: 

     "Without a powerful modern philosophical tradition ... we
     lack the very foundation for knowledge of a phenomenon -
     leadership in the arts, the academy, science, politics, the
     professions, war - that touches and shapes our lives"
We have no modern tradition of philosophy of leadership. In the later years
some modern philosophers have started to take interest in leadership. Examples
are Koestenbaum (1986 and 1991), Kirkeby (1998 and 2001) and Forsth (2002).
Traditional philosophy has however a strong influence on leadership. Examples
are Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu.

What then can the contribution of modern philosophy to modern leadership be? A
first task is to help leaders, theorists and practicians, to find relevant
philosophical works from our rich traditional literature. Modern theories of
leadership are much concerned with the same questions as are treated in
traditional philosophy. The second is to bring attention to many works in
modern philosophy that might be relevant in modern leadership. The third is to
understand and treat the phenomena of leadership from philosophical points of
view. The most important contribution might be to develop a modern philosophy
of leadership based on the contributions from all the other sciences that study
leadership. This means for philosophy to take back its traditional role as the
science of sciences. 

An important step in this process is to try to understand the concept of
leadership or the meanings of the words "lead", "leader" and "leadership". The
discrepancy in definitions causes many problems to authors in leadership and
others who try to understand what leadership is. Many authors start on a quest
to find the "real meaning" of the words and usually end up more confused.
Others find some rather special definition as indicated above. In this article
we will try, by a philosophical approach, to find what the words "lead",
"leader" and "leadership" mean. We will also try to find the roots of confusion
and suggest what can be done to it. 

2. Intuitions on Leadership

We all have a sufficient good understanding of the words to understand
sentences as:

     - By his famous speech, Martin Luther King became one of
     the most influential leaders of the movement for human
     - By being an example, Gandhi was a leader for many
     nonviolence movements in the world.
     - Thursday 2. of August 1934 Hitler was appointed
     Reichskansler and he also became the leader of the armed
     forces of Germany.
     - Abel and Ann competed for being the leader of the groups
     of friends.
     - They followed the lead of the man in front.
     - The old female was the leader of the pack of wolves.
     - Bees lead each other to the food by signalling by their
     - He led his son by hand.
     - Entering the last curve of the race, Mick was in the lead.
     - Leadership is a position within society.
     - Leadership is the result of an ability to persuade or
     direct men.

What is common in these examples? This leads us to the question: What was the
original meaning of the words? Rost (1991:38) says: 

     "The verb "to lead" comes from the Old English word leden or
     loedan, which meant "to make go"." 

Rost says that the words "lead", "leader" and "leading" have been used from
about 1300. The word "leadership" is of a later date and is first found from
the first part of the nineteenth century in texts on the British parliament.
The old Norwegian word "leida" was used long before that. It meant "to make go"
and could be used like "leading the goat by a rope" or a "leading a child by
hand". Similar meanings can be found in old German. The basic word is then the
verb "lead" which the other words "leader", "leading" and "leadership" are
deduced from.

This shows that the words in some contexts are still used in their original
meaning. But in other contexts they are used more as metaphors or analogies.
This explains the many different usages of the word as indicated above. Most of
the different definitions might hence be acceptable as correct uses of the words
in direct or metaphoric ways. Our main interest is however not the use of the
words, but their meaning in the special contexts of leadership theory and
practice as indicated in the quotation from Burns (1979:2) given above. The
philosophy of language might help us. 

3. A Philosophy of Language Approach to Leadership

Frege (1892 1970) developed his philosophy of language for scientific purposes.
An important goal was to find ways to decide if a sentence was true or not. By
knowing this we will be able to extend our knowledge and understanding. In our
context we want to know if (or in which contexts) a sentence like "Leadership
is nnn" (where nnn gives  a definition or an explanation) is true or not.
Frege's philosophy seems to  fit our needs. According to Frege (1970:59) we
have our ideas of words from:

     "an internal image, arising from memories of sense
     impressions which I have had and acts, both internal and
     external, which I have performed." 

These internal images, Frege calls our ideas of the word. These are strictly
subjective, each person might have his own image different from the images of
others. But parts of the private ideas are similar to others ideas. If not, we
would not be able to communicate. This common part of the ideas Frege calls
"sense" ("Sinn"). The word "leadership" also refers to something outside us, in
Frege's language called "reference" ("Bedeutung"). Frege's philosophy of
language gives one explanation of why we have so many different definitions and
explanations. People have so many different experiences of leaders and
leadership, that they do not have sufficient in common to have a common "Sinn"
or even "Bedeutung". This would leave us with the wide use of the words as
indicated above.

Our next try is Kripke (1970 1994). Kripke (1994:195) considers the view that:

     "there is some sort of looseness or weakness in our

A reason for this is that the reference of a word:

     "is determined not by a single description but by some
     cluster or family". 

One important point Kripke makes, however, is that the meaning of a word is not
only determined by our own experiences with the use of the word. The word might
have a long history of use in our language that is not known to us. Some of
this history cling to the word without us being conscious of that "added
value". We might believe that we have got the understanding of the word by the
ways we have experienced it, but this is not always the case. Kripke (1970:210)

     "On our view, it is not how the speaker thinks he got the
     reference, but the actual chain of communication, which is

The users of the word "leadership" then have not only learned the word in
different situations. In addition they have learned them in different
historical chains. This historical chain depends not only of the historical use
of the word in that country. In fact even neighbour organizations in the same
town might have quite different histories of leadership within their
organizations. We then got no further to agreed definitions by help of Kripke,
but at least we got a better understanding of the complexity of the problem. 

Putnam (1973 1990:308) starts with the assumption of Frege that: 

     "meanings are public property - that the same meaning can be
     'grasped' by more than one person and by persons at different

But as our problem clearly shows us, this assumption is not always right.
Putnam's (1990:312) answer is to introduce his "Hypotheses of the universality
of the division of linguistic labour". According to this the linguistic
community as a collective body have some understanding of the meanings of
special words like "leadership", but the exact understanding and mastering of
the concept might be limited to those experts who have got a professional
knowledge. Most people interested in leadership would agree that some people
understand it a lot better than others. But who? It is quite clear from the
literature on leadership that even the most celebrated authorities do not

Davidson's (1977, 1984, 1990 and 1999) contribution to the theory of language
might clarify our problem a bit more. According to his theory we learn the
language in a triangle situation: Situation, speaker and listener (learner). By
hearing the world "leader" used in many situations we understand not only the
meaning of the word but also when sentences containing the word are true.
According to Davidson  (1999:17) the reference itself is not the important

     "There is nothing for true sentences to correspond to,
     neither is there anything for them to represent". 

This does not mean that Davidson denies a real world, only that, Davidson

     "The ultimate source of both objectivity and communication
     is the triangle that, by relating speaker, interpreter, and
     the world, determines the contents of thought and speech."

And in Davidson (1977:199): 

     "In sharing a language, we share a picture of the world." 

For Davidson we do not only learn a language by the triangle situation, we
learn the thinking itself. This means that words like "leader" that has
clusters of triangle situations, might be strongly integrated with our way of
thinking and our concepts of reality. This suggest that the discrepancies in
the definitions and understandings of leadership might be even deeper than they
seem at the first glance.

Grice (1957 1994) gives us quite another approach to our problem. In his theory
the meaning of a word is not defined strictly by its reference but by what
result the speaker intends to get in his listeners. Grice (1994:28) says: 

     "Only what I may call the primary intention of an utterer
     is relevant to the meaning of an utterance". 

In the leadership literature the intentions seem not only to be objective
definitions or explanations. An important intention is to make the readers into
better leaders (better in the opinion of the author). This is sometimes done by
excluding the unwanted ways of leadership by excluding them from being
leadership at all. An example is Burns (1979:2): 

     "But Hitler, once he gained power and crushed all opposition,
     was no leader - he was a tyrant. A leader and a tyrant are
     polar opposites." 

In Burns' (1979:27) opinion Gandhi, Lenin and Mao were leaders. Rost's
(1991:102) definition is also clearly normative: 

     "Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and
     followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual

This discussion suggests that the problem of definitions of leadership is not a
problem of language or of definitions of words. The philosophy of language shows
the complexity of the problem. It also suggests that the problem is more
normative than descriptive. This leads us to the question: What is the purpose
of leadership?

4. The Purpose of Leadership

Why do we have leadership? Why do we have leaders? This leads us to the
question of why human beings (and many other beings) organize themselves in
groups, organizations and societies. This again leads us to classical
philosophy. According to Aristotle, it is natural and necessary to gather in
groups and societies. It starts with man and woman that unite to get children
(Politics 1252) and ends in a state (Politics 1275):

     "A state is a body of citizens sufficing for the purposes
     of life." 

But society has a purpose that transcends this material purpose (Politics

     "Our conclusion, then, is that political society exists
     for the sake of noble actions, and not of living together." 

The purpose of the leader is also made clear by Plato. In (Republic 347d)
Socrates says:

     "The true ruler is not meant by nature to regard his own
     interest, but that of his subjects." 

What then is the purpose of a philosophy of leadership? The leadership
philosopher Koestenbaum (1991:303) answers: 

     "What is philosophy? Philosophy deals with the purely
     human, with the eternal questions, and, in the language of
     the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, with immortality,
     love, justice, that is, with God, meaning, and
     consciousness. Philosophy represents the in-depth mindset
     required for leadership."



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York, 1985. Here from Rost (1991)
Burns MacGregor, J.: Leadership, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1979
Davidson, D.: The Method of Truth in Metaphysics 1977. In Davidson (1984)
Davidson, D.: Inquiries into Truth & Interpretation, Clarendon Press, Oxford,
New York, 1984
Davidson, D.: The Structure and Content of Truth, The Journal of Philosophy, V.
LXXXVII, No. 6, June 1990, p. 279-328
Davidson, D.: Is truth a goal of inquiry? Discussion with Rorty, 1999. I Zeglen
Forsth, Leif-Runar: What is leadership? What is good leadership? (In Norwegian)
Thesis in Philosophy, University of Oslo, 2002
Frege, G.: On Sense and Reference, In Gabriel (1970) 
Gabriel, Gottfried (Editor) Translations from the Philosophical Writings of
Gottlob Frege, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1970
Grice, H.P.: Meaning. In Harnish (1994)
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Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994
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Kirkeby, O.F.: Organisationsfilosofi - en studie i liminalitet,
Samfundslitteratur, Frederiksberg C, 2001
Koestenbaum, P.: Filosofi i nĺringslivet, J.W. Cappelens Forlag, Oslo, 1986
Koestenbaum, P.: Leadership - The Inner Side of Greatness, Jossey-Bass, San
Francisco, USA, 1991
Kripke, S.: Naming and Necessity. In Harnish (1994) 
Martinich, A.P.(Editor): The Philosophy of Language, Oxford University Press,
Putnam, H.: Meaning and Reference. In Martinich (1990)
Rost, J.C.: Leadership For The Twenty-first Century, Praeger Publishers, New
York, 1991
Zeglen, M. (Ed.): Donald Davidson - Truth, meaning and knowledge, Routledge,
London and New York, 1999	

(c) Leif-Runar Forsth 2003