Unexamined Leadership: Socrates & Theresa May

May 29, 2019 Joe Britto

Reading Time: 2 Minutes.

According to Plato, one of the many phrases of wisdom that Socrates gave us is this one: the unexamined life is not worth living. I didn’t know Socrates, but I’m guessing if that sounds harsh it was meant to.

Socrates, after all was put to death because he challenged people. And that quote, even 2,000 years later, is still challenging. Because what Socrates is asking us to do is reconsider. Reconsider what we believe to be true, what we think is right, what we build our lives on.

Heady stuff. But this is a business blog I hear you say, so what gives?

Worlds Colliding

When British Prime Minister Theresa May held back tears at the end of her resignation speech last week, it looked to me like a lesson for us all. There’s enough been written on the mistakes she may or may not have made. That’s not a road I’m walking down here.

The road I am heading down is the moment when the world as it really is collides with the world we think should be.

Few of us are running countries. Many more of us are leaders in business. And as leaders we have strong views on how things should be; on the best way to do something. So strong that those views seem obvious, as if the way we think things should be is the natural way for them to be.

Another person I don’t know is Theresa May. And I don’t know if she felt her three times rejected Brexit deal was the best strategy. It may be she did and it may be it was. It may be she didn’t believe that.

The lesson for us all is surety in what we’re doing.

For me the enemy of living the six attributes is certainty. I’m not saying being sure is always a bad idea. I am saying not heeding warning signs, or holding on stubbornly to an idea is almost always unhelpful.

Cognitive Behavioural

CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy gave us the world of thinking errors. Things like all-or-nothing thinking, where we see something as black and white. Mind-reading where we think we know what’s going on for other people; or emotional reasoning, where we develop a course of action based on feelings as if those feelings are a perfect reflection of the world.

Not to argue with CBT, but those aren’t errors in thinking. To me they’re errors of judgment. And the judgment error? To accept that because we think a certain way it must be the right way.


Though CBT might recommend years of therapy. For me there’s a short cut to getting to a workable idea. And it’s the heading of this section. Humility in our thinking leaves room for other ideas. It makes it possible for others to put ideas forward. And adding many ideas together is how we get, not at the Truth with a capital T, but to stand on reasonably solid ground.

An Examined Life of Leadership

That’s what effective leadership teams do. That’s what effective leaders do. They allow space. For reflection, for other ideas, for other ways of doing things. They don’t look to their idea as the best way, but as one way.

For Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living. In business unexamined leadership is not worth following.


Want blogs like this in your inbox?


What to dive deeper?

Check out The Six Attributes of a Leadership Mindset by Joe Britto

Facing a people challenge?

Our approach starts with an interactive experience. We work with your teams to develop the six attributes of a leadership mindset that enables them to work together, model leadership, and come up with solutions themselves.

Facing a practical challenge?

Our consulting ignites a revolution. It grows the six attributes and operationalises leadership behaviours. Not only do your people have great ideas, they have the mindset to make those ideas succeed.

, ,