Renaissance and Organizations
Three of the most important Renaissance thinkers were Dutch theologian Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), the Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), and French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592). Their teachings continue to live on in the form of organizational cultures. The intent here is to examine how each philosophy surfaces and manifests itself in the form of actions within the organization that solidify its culture, which creates “the way we do things around here” – the catchphrase popular in defining organizational culture.
Aside from being a Catholic priest, Erasmus was known as a social critic and humanist. We could compare him to a Corporate Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Officer. He was respectful to the authority of the Pope (corporate comparison: CEO), and, he acknowledged that some leaders can be abusive. He advocated that we must think for ourselves and not merely be foot-soldiers; yet, withhold opinion (Dale Carnegie’s “Do not Condemn, Complain, or Criticize), so as to not make waves. He was determined to be an internal change agent, and remained a life-long, faithful “employee.”
Erasmus’ strategy was to take a middle-road approach (i.e. mild on Confrontation/Harmony; not extreme/very strong, on the continuum of preferences) in his actions and words. His best known work, The Praise of Folly (a.k.a. Morias Encomium), was a story indirectly criticizing Senior Management (i.e. the Church’s practices and its political allies). His intervention caused people to think critically and thereby proved to be instrumental in the Protestant Reformation.
Perhaps the most notoriously popular philosopher of this period is Machiavelli, who authored The Prince. Although, he died before it was published for public consumption. His book was infamous for recommending that Senior Leaders (i.e. Rulers) resort to extreme measures in (Corporate) Governance. These measures include the use of force, the use of manipulation through lying, and playing on people’s beliefs and their ideals of goodness (e.g. comparable to placing a positive spin on irrefutable data, such as lowered financial guidance).
Machiavelli’s doctrines were in direct conflict against the doctrines of politics and ethics of the time.
- How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation. (In other words, get real and figure out when to break the rules to come out ahead).
- The ends justify the means. (Unethical practices are okay as long as you’re a corporate survivor).
- It’s better to be feared than followed. (Corporate Bully).
- Men shrink less from offending one who inspires love than one who inspires fear. (Corporate Bully).
- The offenses one does to a man should be such that one does not fear revenge for it. (Undermine your peers, et al, in a way where you can gain power without fear of any repercussion).
Montaigne was the first person who referred to his writing as essays. Essay in French means “try” or “attempt.” His approach was intended to explain, rather than prove a position. As a deep Thinker, Montaigne was revolutionary about the world, people, and social constructs, but he didn’t try to bring attention to himself. He was considered honest and a modern skeptic. He revitalized Socrates with his comment, “Que sais-je?” (What do I know?). He was a masterful story-teller that, combined with his vast intellectual knowledge, had great public appeal and bore influence on several of the greatest philosophers, psychologists, and other thought leaders from René Descartes to Friedrich Nietzsche and onward.
All three of these men practiced critical thinking. They became highly influential leaders through independent thinking. It takes courage to voice your thoughts when it goes against Senior Management. Many leaders have been glorified and crucified for their words, yet even when the person is gone, their impact is still felt.
Know your purpose.
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. CorporateLookingGlass.com.
Note: This author does not endorse Machiavellianism. She believes power is a social construct that is a manifestation of a character flaw known as an insecurity and/or fear of weakness.
Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Ebury Publishing. 2010.
Deal T. E. and Kennedy, A. A. Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1982
Stevenson, Jay, Ph.D. Philosophy. Penguin Group. 2014.
©Rossina Gil, 2013
Posted on November 3, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged Corporate Governance, Critical Thinking, Erasmus, internal change agent, Leadership, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Renaissance and Organizations, unethical practices. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.