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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

HR Professionals Need Philosophy

Diversidad Pura -Mirta Toledo 1993

“An important place to begin in philosophy is this: a clear perception of one’s own ruling principle.” – Epictetus

My good friend and mentor, Erich Kurschat, recently forwarded me this article:

Erich knows I am a big-time fan of Ryan Holiday, who has influenced my life, and so many others, immeasurably. Holiday is the founder of the Daily Stoic, and the bestselling author of The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. He is a proponent for people studying philosophy, particularly Stoicism.

According to Holiday the only reason a person should study philosophy – the study of wisdom – is to become a better person. That’s it. And someone becomes a philosopher “when they begin to exercise their guiding reason and start to question the emotions and beliefs and even language that others take for granted” (The Daily Stoic, pg. 71). This is a deeply personal practice, but I have been arguing since the founding of this blog that there are professional applications to philosophy. The modern workplace requires philosophers to function, grown, and thrive!

Thankfully, I am not alone in this belief. Philosophy as a professional application has seen something of a jolt in the work landscape over the past decade. More and more professionals are arguing the importance that philosophy plays in the workplace.

Including Holiday, who wrote how Stoicism can help people navigate the modern workplace, publisher Stephen Hanselman has written about how philosophy helps develop leadership, and Mark Manson – bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** – wrote an entire treatise called Why We All Need Philosophy.

Why philosophy? Isn’t that a discipline for stuffy old bearded men in ivory towers? Well, not really, unless you’re doing it wrong!

I wrote in a prior article “What is an HR Philosopher” that philosophy is meant for everyone! Philosophy is about living one’s best life and acting on what is right. So, in essence, I take that to heart. Doing HR right is an act of philosophy to me. It is always important to create space to think, put things into perspective, and act on what is right.

As Ryan Holiday said, the only reason to study philosophy is to become a better person, and that includes your profession. Become a better HR professional by incorporating philosophy in what you do.

When done right, philosophy develops critical and innovative thinking, and it helps people develop emotional stability and an empathetic attitude, both required for success in the complex and ever-changing modern organization. Philosophy helps us develop ethics and core values to keep us grounded and rooted in those core values. Hence, successful business without philosophy is unthinkable!!!

This can be AND SHOULD BE done by everyone and taken with them wherever they go – home, work, the bank, the restaurant, their child’s play, their partner’s parent’s house, business meetings, job interviews, EVERYWHERE!

As HR professionals, we are preached to ad nauseum that we need to be ahead of the curve, we need to be more progressive than others in our organization, and we need to do MORE to prove our worth.

I challenge ALL HR professionals to develop their own philosophy. Study the classics. Study the new school. Just pick up a book and read! It’s daunting Where should you begin?

If you are a regular reader, it’s fairly obvious which philosophical school I belong to. If you’re not, I am a Stoic, with a capital S.

I do believe, however, that philosophical value can be found elsewhere. In fact, Stoicism was heavily influenced by other philosophical schools, and studying opposing thoughts and differing views can only strengthen our own understanding of ourselves, how we work, and the world in which we live.

You do you! Just start somewhere. Some places to begin include some of the following philosophers. I took one of their main ideas that has influenced me and how it can be applied to the HR workplace.

Philosopher: Plato – “Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.”

HR Implication: Employee Development – Help managers find the best in their staff. Coach them up to coach their staff up!

Philosopher: Aristotle – “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit.”

HR Implication: Professional & Career Development – Continue to grow as an HR professional. Don’t rest on your laurels.

Philosopher: W.E.B. Du Bois – “The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame.”

HR Implication: Benefits – Remember that people are motivated by money, yes, but many studies show that better motivators are sincere recognition, autonomy, and kindness. The biggest reason people leave jobs are bad bosses. They ruin lives, as the saying goes.

Philosopher: Friedrich Nietzsche – “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

HR Implication: DEI – Do not forget that diversity of thought has led to many amazing breakthroughs and strong organizational cultures!

Philosopher: Héloïse d’Argenteuil – “We tarnish the luster of our most beautiful actions when we applaud them ourselves.”

HR Implication: Performance (Self) Management – Ego is a most disastrous enemy. No matter how impactful or disastrous your work has been, remember to have a short memory. Forget it and move on, or else you risk no longer being relevant.

Philosopher: Hypatia of Alexandria – “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”

HR Implication: HRIS – No matter what system you have, love, hate, don’t have, always remember, it’s there to make your life easier – not replace the HR pro.

Philosopher: Lao Tzu – “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

HR Implication: Work Life Balance – The work will always be there tomorrow morning. 😊

Philosopher: Marcus Aurelius – “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

HR Implication: Investigations – Remember to get the facts. Never jump to conclusions. Check your biases constantly. Make sure you’re getting the right information.

I could go on, and I’d love to, but I will leave that to others wanting to explore on their own. One other “starting point” is provided by Mark Manson. His “where to start” list is pretty good and inclusive. Give it a try!

Lastly, philosophy is mistakenly thought of as an old White Man’s game. Any American going through the USA’s educational system (or presidential election) could mistakenly believe that. Do one simple Google search, however, and you will discover MANY women, Black, and Eastern philosophers who have important things to add to our greater discussion.

Ultimately, I try to make my own philosophy one of balance. Stoicism helps me with this more so than others, but it doesn’t mean I ignore wisdom form other places. I seek to understand, so that I can help others understand. I can only do this by studying differing philosophies. In the context of human resources, this is imperative. Ours is a complicated profession. We must balance the needs of so many, and in doing so risk not fulfilling the needs of ourselves. Philosophy keeps me grounded and reminds me that I need to also take care of myself in my pursuit of taking care of others.

What do you think? Will you begin to incorporate philosophy into your daily life? DO you want to be a better version of yourself? Do you want to be a better person, a better professional? Give philosophy a try.

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