Philosopher Kings and Queens as Managers and CEOs
By Pepper de Callier

Years ago, when I first heard the term philosopher kings, I formed an image in my mind of a bunch of old guys sitting around thinking, just thinking, and maybe every once in a while one of them would lift his chin off his hand to say something like, “I think, therefore I am”.

Plato, however, had something different in mind when he used the phrase “philosopher king” in The Republic to describe Socrates’s ideal ruler.  And I think much of what applied then to this term applies today, maybe even more so for today’s “rulers” in business—managers and CEO’s.

First, let’s look at the definition of the word philosophy: The love and pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.  Further, wisdom is defined as: The ability to judge what is true, right and lasting, to have insight, or, common sense as I call it.

In describing the attributes of the ideal leader I think Socrates was saying, “Hey, it’s great to have smart people (content experts) in charge of things.  However, being smart is only part of what’s needed to be a good leader.    Sometimes smart people don’t understand the full impact their decisions might have before they make them. They see what needs to be done, they make a “logical” decision and then they act on it.”  Equally important, they might not understand why something is done in a certain way. They see that a change is needed and they say to themselves, “I will change things—period, end of story.”

In the knowledge-based economy we were taught to pay homage to content knowledge and raw intelligence in our business leaders.  Think back to the Technology Boom/Bust, to companies like Enron, World Com, Adelphia, and Tyco.  The list goes on and on of examples of companies who had leaders with knowledge and intelligence but not wisdom.

What does all this have to do with business today in the Czech Republic?  Plenty.  It’s called globalization.  Today’s global economy is becoming a “wisdom-based” economy.  In a wisdom-based economy knowledge becomes a commodity.  Everyone has access to content knowledge today and smart people are everywhere.  Today the future belongs to those who understand how all the pieces fit together and why they fit together.  It belongs to those who invest the time to learn why it’s important to understand the consequences of their actions and the value of building lasting relationships; relationships within their immediate reach (offices, teams, companies or governments) and relationships beyond their immediate reach across borders and cultures.  These are the people who are today’s philosopher kings and queens, and they are the people who will excel and lead others to excel in a wisdom-based economy.                

Think for a moment of the impact a philosopher king or queen--someone who loves learning new things and understanding the world around them--would have on an organization.  These leaders encourage open discussion and exploration.  Their focus is on growth, continuous improvement, novel solutions and full consideration of the impact of actions taken.  Philosopher kings and queens are decisive leaders who work hard and value understanding as much as knowledge.

The lesson of the past decade is that all the intelligence and knowledge in the world is not worth very much without good judgment and common sense as we move into a wisdom-based economy.  

Recently, I have been traveling around the Czech Republic meeting with Central and Eastern European business leaders, leaders who would be considered successful on international standards, to talk with them and hear their thoughts on what they do and why they do it.  I have met with leaders and leaders-to-be in the pharmaceutical, banking, insurance, publishing, manufacturing, professional services, NGO and governmental sectors and I have come away with some distinct and lasting impressions.  

As one might imagine, there are those who have more of a “gladiator” mentality than that of a philosopher king or queen.  To them everything is a battle, there are only winners and losers--life is a zero sum game.  But, I would say that the majority of people I have met are truly inspiring as leaders.  They have an insatiable thirst for knowledge—not only content knowledge, but knowledge about themselves and others.  They are driven in their pursuit of excellence, continuous improvement and sustainability.  Yes, they care about profit, market share, efficiency and all the things that meant success in the knowledge based economy, but they also have the wisdom to see and understand the bigger picture of how it all fits together and why.  And most important, they know the value of leading by example—these are the philosopher kings and queens of today’s world, the world of the wisdom-based economy.

My hope is that more educational programs will be offered on this topic to our young Philosopher kings and queens of tomorrow. 

Good luck on your way up!

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

*These are reprints from Pepper de Callier‘s newspaper column in Hospodarske noviny.  

Common Sense Wisdom: Thoughts to Live By

From beginning September 3rd, 2012, you will be able to start your week with an insight, or new perspective that will help you move closer to your goals as a professional and a personally fulfilling life as one of today’s most respected coaches, authors and leadership authorities, Pepper de Callier, shares his thoughts with you in a short inspirational video of two to four minutes every Monday morning on YouTube in a series titled Common Sense Wisdom: Thoughts to Live By

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