Sunday, August 7, 2016

Philosophical "Isms": tradition and dissonance for leadership practice.

Updated 2/13/19
It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. – Baudelaire

Leadership preparation in many organizations, e.g. educational, military, religious, even commercial, often requires participants to undergo some exposure to what is characterized as "morale building" or "staff/attitude development" or, in general, "philosophical" training. No matter to what depth it is carried out, it usually begins with rather simplistic categories charted to facilitate -- by contrast and comparison -- either bias, memorization, or understanding of the relationship between different approaches to practice.

The distinctions made between different philosophies are generally believed to generate, in the long run, important distinctions in practice, as, for example, economic activities pursuing capitalism in contrast to socialism. In the United States, securing funding from governmental bodies is often contingent on applicants stating their organization's philosophy so as to enable judgment of their success while allowing for diversity of goals.

However, there is often a problem which arises both from the vagueness or ambiguity of critical terms used to define such philosophies, due in no small part from failure to recognize that such words as "pragmatic" or " "idealistic" or "behavioral," though fraught with philosophical content, vary in denotation and significance depending on context.

I created the chart to the right as a basic learning aide for professional certification candidates in my university classes. My personal aim was always to show my experienced, adult graduate students -- though in various professions, e.g. education, nursing, business administration, corporate instruction - that they could develop techniques of interpreting, critiquing and applying, what would be otherwise pointless "philosophical" puffery, to achieve the goals best serving their organizations. (See Sorting Out Philosophies Via Critical Questions: an interrogatory.

I based the chart on careful examination of several published sources (some indicated at the bottom of the chart). My students' initial reactions were that different categories showed a lot of overlap. Worse yet, there were internal conflicts. Obviously, there was, initially, at least, no clear path to be drawn from the short, sloganistic characterization of each "ism" to a real-life organizational goal. The ambiguity and contradiction were very much like what they often found in their own organization's philosophy. {See PHILOSOPHY AND EDUCATION: What's The Connection? )

However, by having the students bring in documents to class stating their organizations' philosophies, we could work using the chart as a springboard at articulating cogent reasons why some options for action might be considered better than others in achieving the goals expressed in their organizational philosophies.

To get more explanation of the chart and fuller references for its sources, see Teaching Philosophy to Teachers: are ISM's Philosophy?.

--- EGR