Monthly Archives: October 2013

Hellenistic Philosophy and Leadership


Philosophy is the love of wisdom.  Indeed, to practice effective leadership one requires wisdom.  Certain best practices in leadership can be categorized as pertaining to one of three Hellenistic philosophies; namely, Skepticism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism.  Recognize how each one translates into today’s workplace.



Skepticism comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “seeking.”   Socrates was a seeker of the truth and claimed to not know what he did not know, in stark contrast to those leaders who were more into “image crafting” or “impressions management” and did not know what they claimed to know.  In today’s workplace, sometimes hubris is more evident in the younger professional talent pools (although in abundance at all levels), thinking that they know everything they need to know and impatiently await a promotion; whereas, many middle-aged professionals have learned the hard way that the more they learn, the more they realize how much they did not know.  (German philosopher Nicholas of Cusa reiterated this concept 18 centuries later by saying, “The more we learn, the more we see how ignorant we are.”). 

It is for this reason of truth-seeking that Socrates taught dialectics, or the Socratic method, to the young, wealthy men of Greece.  Dialectic is a line of questioning or dialogue between an idea and something that the idea isn’t.  This usually entails thinking about an idea in terms of another idea or comparing and contrasting two or more ideas.


  • To answer this question, what questions would we need to answer first?
  • Is this the most important question, or is there an underlying question that is really the issue?
  • What could we assume instead? 
  • Your reasoning depends on the idea that ___.  Why have you based your reasoning on ___rather than on ___?
  • Why do you think that is true?  Do you have any evidence for that?  Is there reason to doubt that as evidence?  What led you to that belief?
  • What do they value that makes them say that?  What value underlies that view?  Does that value reflect a concern for the legitimate expectations of all stakeholders?
  • If that is the case, then what else must also be true?
  • You seem to be approaching this issue from ____perspective.  Why have you chosen this rather than that perspective?
  • How would other types of people respond?  Why?  What would influence them?
  • What would someone who disagrees say?

Socrates prized student was Aristocles; you know him by his nickname Plato, which means the “broad-shouldered one.”  Since Socrates was such an influential change agent – someone who did not kowtow to hierarchy, but stood his ground as a critical analyst and independent thinker (as most professionals in Leadership Development are), he was sentenced to death by poison in 399 BC.  Punishment in today’s workplace is banishment by way of termination, redundancy, or lay-off.

Plato opened his own school (Leadership Development practice), which he called the Academy in 385 BC.  His student was Aristotle, who founded his school the Lyceum (“covered walkway”) in 335 BC.  Philosophy after these two leaders became more dogmatic, i.e. telling people WHAT to do instead of COACHING them to think for themselves and seek out the answer that comes from within.  This led to successive failures in civilization of people who demanded &/or adhered to rules, bureaucracy, and dictates because so many believed the “truth” was decided for them.  Those who crave power create classes (i.e. various levels of management), which is the opposite of “flat management.”  In today’s workplace, terminology that labels these classes are “leader” for the higher-tiered levels and “team” for the rest of the talent base; thereby suggesting linguistically that one is not a leader unless granted the title.  What dangers lie in communicating to an employee that s/he is not a leader?  How does this impact succession planning?

Developing an employee class of “sheeple” (i.e. people who blindly follow without protest or contest, like sheep) does not encourage them to seek out their purpose – i.e. how to optimize one’s own skill sets.  Those who discover their purpose either adapt to survive in a hostile environment or leave for more friendly territory (i.e. attrition rises as talent is driven to run for the hills towards companies that value their talent).



Around 300 BC, Zeno founded the Stoa Poikile (“painted porch”).  This was a school for the Stoics.  Zeno’s philosophy was that when bad things happen, we should not let that affect us.  Joan Rivers’ book, Bouncing Back: I’ve Survived Everything … and I Mean Everything … and You Can Too!, is a perfect example of stoicism, where she encourages readers to stop wallowing in self-pity and get on with life.  Her stoic belief is that problems and hardships disappear when you decide to not be bothered by them anymore.  It’s all a matter of mind over matter.  Fate may determine things AND when you can take control of a situation, you should.  Live up to your responsibilities!  Baby Boomers, modern-day road warriors, and salespeople often take on a stoic viewpoint.



Also around 300 BC, Epicurus set up shop with his school he called The Garden.  Epicureans (and to some extent the Stoics) were interested in achieving peace and mental tranquility.  These may be comparable to our modern-day remote, or virtual, colleagues who are surrounded in their own, comfortable environs – whether at home or at Starbucks, for example.  Epicureans focused more on individual freedom, while the Stoics were concerned with social responsibility.  Interestingly, author Daniel Pink underscores autonomy, as a major motivator in the workplace.  This unequivocally appeals to the Gen Y/Millennial workforce, which places a premium on interrelatedness and the work-life balance. 

As talent managers, we must seek out the truth by seeing words as only approximations of the truth and not allow them to stand in the way of our understanding and efficacy.

Practice inquiry.

Thank you.


Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. 



Pink, Daniel.  Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.  Penguin Group. 2009.

Rivers, Joan.  Bouncing Back: I’ve Survived Everything … and I Mean Everything … and You Can Too!  HarperTorch.  1997.

Stevenson, Jay, Ph.D.  Philosophy.  Penguin Group. 2013.


©Rossina Gil, 2013



Talent Mapping: The Crux of Corporate America


Of the total workforce population, there are roughly 76 million Baby Boomers, only 50 million Gen X’ers, and a whopping 86 million (& counting) Gen Y/Millennials.  Not only is there a cultural Generation Gap, there is a Talent Gap – the disparity of prepared, workforce replacements – that requires “Talent Mapping” in order to keep the economic backbone of this country strong.  Talent mapping is the process of critically examining what talent exists within the organization and how to strategically plan to prepare for future needs and/or growth initiatives.

Some of the best practices can be extrapolated from a microcosm.  For example, Switzerland has a population of <8 million; yet, is has been hailed by the Economist magazine for several consecutive years as having the highest quality of living.  With very little natural resources from which to draw, how do they have such a strong and stable economy?  Their number one reason is: they invest in their people.

In fact, most of the businesses in Switzerland are privately owned.  If we were to draw from our own talent perceptions on working for private companies, we would find that there are many perceived advantages.  These advantages can be used as recruiting and retention levers to attract and maintain top talent.  Among the top three most compelling reasons to join a private company are the following: inclusion, having a voice, and a higher degree of interrelatedness (both internally and externally).


The Three Horsemen of HR

Recruitment.  Development.  Retention.   These three areas form the triumvirate and serve as the crux of your organization’s success.  If you are deficient (or lacking) in one of these areas, then it is akin to sitting on a 3-legged stool with one leg missing – your future will indubitably falter.  The first and most strategic recruit in an organization, according to Ana Dutra, CEO Korn/Ferry International, is “A really strong head of HR with a focus on Talent Management and Leadership Development.”  S/He plays an important role in establishing the company’s reputation, which is the most frequently cited element in attracting (& retaining) talent.  And, with the proliferation of websites that facilitate the “real” Employee Engagement and Organizational Health surveys on the internet – meaning a survey that renders no repercussions from supervisors who exhibit frustration over low roll-up scores – current, ex-colleagues, and potential candidates can anonymously share their impressions of what the organization’s culture, interviewing process, and treatment of its people are really like.  These impressions are, unfortunately, generally in stark contrast to whatever the company website and other forms of propaganda profess for it to be.  This is the corporate version of Zagat’s guide.  How have others found the ambience to be like?  What is the price you pay to be there?  Is the service friendly?  How many stars would you give it?


Leadership Development

Less than half of the organizations within Corporate America have formalized processes for identifying and developing high-potentials (hi-po’s).  One best practice to keep the three horsemen at bay is to implement a Career Model Framework.  This framework is a system accessible by any company employee through the company’s intranet; it lays out a set of objective competencies one needs to achieve in order to be considered for promotion.  Merrill Lynch has a first-in-class system which enables its financial advisors to track their individualized progress.  Meanwhile, stories are regaled from other organizations, such as Amazon, that so-called Organization Leadership Reviews are intended to be objective, yet promotions seem to be heavily reliant upon subjective, anecdotal data (versus contextualized and hard data) and the senior leader’s ability/influence to persuade, either negatively or positively.


Top Developmental Tools

Retain your organizational knowledge, the investment made in the Learning Curve, your company’s morale / team-spirit, and maximize the Return on Investment (ROI) to strengthen your leadership pipeline and competitive advantages by utilizing all of the following tools.

  • Leadership Development Workshops
  • Targeted Training
  • Career-Pathing / Coaching
  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • Stretch Assignments / International
  • Rotation
  • Objective Metrics (e.g. Career Model Framework)
  • Practice Diversity & Inclusion
  • Telecommuting Options
  • Mentorship
  • Treat Your Vendors Like Internals (this goes back to Inclusion)

Business is relationships.  The way you manage those relationships is the way you’ve managed your future.

Thank you.


Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.  She wants Anne Taylor’s Kate Hudson Holiday Collection for Christmas. 



Forbes Insights, The Talent Imperative, April 2013, pg 20.

Of Mice and Mentors


The subject of mentors and sponsors frequently surfaces among the high-potentials in Corporate America’s most prestigious firms and organizations.  How do I get one?  What is the difference between the two terms?

Recently, a manager commented that she has a “crappy boss.”  Since the first step in a constructive dialogue is to provide specific, measurable, and objective details on behavior and steer away from evaluative and judgmental  adjectives that label the person, the question to explore is, “What is it that s/he is doing, or not doing, that causes you to label your boss as ‘crappy’?”  Answer: “She is not developing me.  Others at my level are being developed by their supervisors.”  In another situation, it was the supervisor exasperatedly telling his direct report, “I don’t have time to coach!”  And yet another manager commented, “I don’t want to coach!”

Well, to those who have DR’s (direct reports), coaching is what comes with the territory…once you have DR’s, you are responsible for their professional development and performance.  The number one priority of being a leader is leading others toward higher levels of accomplishment(s)…this is also known as succession planning, strategy, and focusing on long-term success and the survival of your organization.  The reality is, many professionals are promoted to levels of management based on competencies that do not include the necessary skills to develop others.  In essence, it is the Peter Principle — where employees rise to a level where they cannot fulfill their duties.  Corporate America is replete with supervisors who have risen to their level of incompetence.

What to do?  Find a Mentor.

When you have a boss who does not spend the time to coach/guide you, and there is no Leadership Development support, this is where you have the opportunity to seek out mentors.  Mice cower; leaders find peer mentors and senior mentors within the organization to advise them on how to meet and exceed expectations.  Some organizations offer formalized programs for mentoring; however, the best mentoring is often organic – where you manage to find each other, and there is no official titling to your relationship.

  • Got 10?  Ask people for 10 minutes of their time, and be prepared with a couple of questions that can help you understand how to increase the quality of your deliverables.
  • Never dine alone.  Approach someone sitting alone at lunch and ask if you may join him/her.
  • Back to School.  Research who in your organization attended your alma mater, and seek them out.

An external mentor, preferably someone within the same industry, would also greatly benefit leaders at all stages of your career.  External mentors can provide you with an outside perspective that may enlighten your view of a situation.  This may be, for example, a former professor, your parents (depends), or you can hire an executive coach.


Advancement is often accelerated by those within the organization who know you personally and professionally, and can influence decision-makers to offer you new projects &/or promote you.  These types of people are your sponsors.

  • Join an Employee Research Group (ERG).  If your organization doesn’t have one, perhaps you can start one.  ERG’s are professional colleagues who convene to focus on solutions for target markets.
  • Research activities.  Are you really good at racquet ball?  Golf?  Bowling?  Invite a senior executive to a challenge.  Leaders usually enjoy strong competition that isn’t cocky.
  • Provide a win-win.  If you attract a new client or gain positive publicity, this can attract attention to your abilities to lead within your sphere of influence.  Sponsors recognize leadership potential when you follow passions that demonstrate how intrinsic motivation leads to success.

It is an illusory conclusion that we can get there (wherever “there” may be) alone.  Take charge of your career.  It is easy to deflect blame onto others, yet true leaders can come up with solutions that still help you reach your goals.

Happy Hunting.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.