As an academically trained philosopher, I know that philosophy can sometimes be abstract, often impractical and even impenetrable.
For these reasons, many people avoid cracking open philosophy books. I think this is unfortunate.
Good philosophy can be immensely rewarding on both the personal and professional level. Philosophy can help us gain some clarity into some of life’s most important questions and also provide us with some practical principles to live by.
In fact, I think that all leaders need some type of philosophy to help guide their actions. Consequently, every leader would benefit from taking time to ponder some timeless wisdom.
Doing so will only serve to sharpen our thinking, expand our knowledge and inspire a fresh vision.
Here are three timeless philosophy books that I believe every leader needs to read.
1. The Prince, by Machiavelli
This work has inspired its own term: Machiavellian–when a person uses trickery or deception to achieve some goal.
Of course, I’m not advocating leaders read this work to master deception.
Rather, Machiavelli is a relentless realist and The Prince is an unfiltered leadership book full of practical advice. Granted, much of the advice contains questionable morals. Yet, the value of this work is the incredible depth of insight that Machiavelli provides into human nature.
In particular, Machiavelli discusses a vast range of political, psychological and philosophical dimensions related to leadership. In so doing, he also raises a host of important questions about what it takes to lead well. For example, The Prince explores whether there is some necessary conflict between leading well and living well. Does leadership require getting your hands dirty (morally speaking)?
Of course, I think there is no necessary conflict between ethics and leadership. Still, Machiavelli presents a formidable challenge to the idea of ethical leadership. For this reason, this book is well worth the read. Leaders ought to know why ethics matter.
Read The Prince online here.
2. Nicomachean Ethics, by Aristotle
When you’re talking about timeless texts, you can’t do much better than Aristotle’s Ethics. At its core, this book is about happiness. Talk of happiness is all the rage these days. Books are being published regularly in the burgeoning field of positive psychology, the scientific study into human flourishing and happiness.
However, Aristotle beat all these authors, psychologists and studies to the punch. He argues that human happiness is tied to one’s character. If you want to find personal and professional fulfillment, then live a good life and be a good person.
Leaders will certainly find Aristotle’s Ethics a worthwhile read. I am certain they also benefit from
(1) his practical approach to living virtuously,
(2) his insight into the need for developing strong relationship, including friendships and
(3) his insistence of the significance of contemplation for personal success and well-being.
Leaders would do well to heed the wisdom provided by this ageless book.
3. Mediations, by Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius is considered one of the greatest leaders in Roman history. He was both a political leader and an intellectual. His Mediations were primarily written for himself. They were his own personal thoughts on living well and self-improvement.
In this way, they contain his own wisdom and guidelines for personal excellence. Perhaps, the first self-help book.
As such, this work has been an invaluable source of wisdom and personal inspiration for leaders for nearly two millennium.
I leave you with an inspiring line from this work: “Put an end once for all to this discussion of what a good man should be, and be one.”
What are some philosophy works you recommend for leaders?
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