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Existential Leadership – Seriously!?

What on earth is Existentialism I here you cry! Well, it’s fascinating, so read on…!

Last weekend I spent the weekend online, with other delegates from all around the world, looking at the topic of ‘Existential Coaching‘ with the genius that is Yannick Jacob. Whilst the course was mind-blowing (to say the least) in the context of Coaching, it really got me thinking about Existentialism and Leadership and work more generally: something I never thought I’d find myself saying!

Existentialism is focused on the human condition. It is described by Deurzen & Hanaway as “a focus on issues such as freedom, responsibility, authenticity, meaning, purpose, paradox and dilemma. It helps a person to get more of a perspective on the way they live and to ask some new and more profound questions about life.” Just take a moment to reflect on that sentence. Is that not part of our role as Leaders?

Wong (2010) cites some of these existential questions in relation to choices:

  • Who am I? What defines me? Is there anything unique and special about me? What’s left when I peel back the layers?
  • How can I be happy? Why am I bored? Why am I so dissatisfied with life? What is the good life? Why is happiness so illusive? Is this all there is to life?
  • What should I do with my life? How should I live? How do I make my life count for something? What is my calling? To what should I devote the rest of my life?
  • How do I make the right choices? How do I know that I am making the right decision regarding career and relationships? How can I tell right from wrong? How can I choose in complex situations with conflicting moral demands?
  • Where do I belong? Why do I feel so alone? Why don’t I feel at home here? Where is home? How can I develop meaningful relationships? Where can I find acceptance?
  • What is the point of striving when life is so short? Why should I struggle to survive when life is transient and fragile? What is the point of building anything only to see it swallowed up by death?

These questions are maybe not just the kind you would hear featuring in a Coaching conversation but maybe should be there in every Leader/follower conversation.  How about re-reading the questions above through the lens of ‘what is my role as Leader in helping my staff get answers to the above questions at work?’

And what about you? Do you have answers to the above questions? Re read again. How many can you answer?

We spend an enormous of amount of time in the work environment. If part of ‘work’ and ‘team’ is not helping us answer some of life’s key questions, then what can we do to change that?

Other resources re Existentialism:

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