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When modern leadership meets Plato’s Republic


Human beings are programmed with emotions and feelings, which make us prone to bias and prejudice. When it comes to talent acquisition, a competitive compensation and benefits package can attract talent without doubt, but what makes talent willing to stick around for a long time is often tied with good leadership.

Athenian philosopher Plato’s Republic, a record of the dialogues of Socrates (the founder of Western philosophy), depicts his utopia of society, which is in some ways relevant to modern businesses.

The utopian society, according to Plato, is divided into three classes: guardians (philosopher kings or rulers), auxiliaries, and producers. These classes are in parallel to the three parts of each individual’s soul: rational, the spirited and appetitive.

Guardians, the highest class, are the ones who guard external enemies and internal friends. They, who put the interest of the city first before theirs, are knowledgeable and selfless; auxiliaries, the city’s soldiers, are supporters of the guardians’ convictions; the third class, producers, comprises farmers and craftsmen, who were reinforced that they were as important as the rest of the classes, and they do not hold a shameful position in society.

The roles of the three classes are uncannily similar to the unspoken hierarchy of modern businesses: The C-suite as the guardians, managers as the auxiliaries, and workers as the producers.

According to Socrates, in the Republic, a just guardian mainly rules with reason, along with the spirited part of the soul, which restrains the appetitive part (the desire towards pleasure) and offers vitality and life. The guardians are the most appropriate to rule due to their logic and capability to see the true forms of goodness, virtue and justice so their decisions are made morally and not out of self-interest. In modern days, Plato’s epitome of a ruler, which translates to identifying and managing talent by their skill sets and attitudes over personal bias, is key to success for top management.

In the Republic, Socrates proposed each individual should perform solely the task to which one was best suited in a bid to realise the utopia. With hindsight that the division of class would provoke uproar, he proposed a white lie in which he described as “noble”: the citizens of the republic were born with different types of metal. One must do his or her duty to the fullest potential according to the metal God gives. Guardians, auxiliaries and producers contained gold, silver, and bronze and iron in their bodies respectively.

Ridiculous and irrational as this seems to us, to create a sustainable and high-performing workforce, recruiting the right talent for the right position is the first step, followed by providing continual development and giving them a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Very often, how one unites employees coming from different backgrounds, and how one makes sure employees are in the right place, starts with a good story.

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