Hume on leadership

Twitter just hired a diversity chief, while the Eagles are looking for a coach who can communicate well. So what is leadership in a professional organization? Consign your stack of HBR to the flames and read Hume’s answer instead:

When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

Diversity is not saying kumbaya to a black gay female; it is cultivating the discipline to assess her arguments based on experimental and quantitative factors, not her accent or bedroom or looks. Football communication about team execution, likewise, is also intricately tied to a slew of metrics. (It’s because of Hume that the NFL doesn’t want detailed compilations of concussion metrics.)

So I think that a professional leader has to live in an ocean of experimentally and quantitatively calibrated emotions. Modern organizations are too large to be run on emotions alone and too complex to be run on numbers alone. 

This endless pas de deux between emotional dialog and quantification/experimentation, which should be called Humean, alas goes by the unilluminating phrase “leadership vision”. 

But every human group needs someone who can do it. Because every group will face a situation when generic rule of thumb don’t work. What then? Someone needs to step up to the plate. 

What is your emotional relationship to numbers? Do you intrinsically trust them? Or do you instinctively go to the peeping gaps? Or are you somewhere in the middle? 

How do you plan to calibrate and refine this relationship? Is it even possible? Schopenhauer says our final calibration is foredained. But still, we have to make the journey to get there. 


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