Existential Leadership: ‘Good Faith’ in Contemporary Capitalism
This essay responds to the rise of new conceptions of Capitalism by arguing that rather than formulating a new guiding meta-narrative for Capitalism, as many have presented, leaders within organizations are uniquely situated to respond in good faith to the demands of an historical moment. We propose Existential Leadership, derived from the works of Sartre, and more specifically, Barnes, which involves understanding organizations as dwellings for group-in-fusion-praxis. Thus, Existential Leadership provides a framework as an edifice for elucidating the relationship between individual stories and larger dwellings, transforming from passive to active, sustaining group-in-fusion-praxis to avoid hegemony, engaging practical freedom within the practio-inerte, and inscribing these ideas into economic reality. As such, organizations may contribute to positive social change through the liberating ideals of Existentialism. Additionally, this essay explores the role of Existential Leadership as action within the public sphere through the work of Arendt who contends that plurality is the fundamental condition of human life. Because we exist in a world of many and not one, natality, the insertion or birth of a new person or idea, provides an opportunity for freedom enacted through praxis to respond to the ongoing changes in the organizational landscape of the marketplace.
The considerations inherent within this essay provide a philosophical perspective to offer depth and texture in leadership studies. We demonstrate how leadership is not simply an individual construct, but is situated and intimately tied to organizations and the larger public sphere. Existential Leadership involves individuals acting in mutual good faith to achieve liberating goals, while maintaining individual autonomy. The prolific increase in essays on authentic leadership in the past five years illuminates a hunger for leadership that addresses meaning and purpose in life. However, authentic leadership is generally leader-centric and is focused on a leader’s being, rather than on the leader’s doing. We believe Existential Leadership is a more fitting response to the fragmentation of Modern Capitalism because it positions leaders as de-centered – situated or embedded – and directs leaders toward good faith action within organizations and the larger public sphere.
The essay begins with a review of the literature highlighting emerging conceptions of Capitalism and then turns to the philosophical approach to leadership studies utilized in this essay. We believe that leadership is an apt response to a fragmenting of Modern Capitalism, rather than developing a new guiding meta-narrative. Additionally, we believe a philosophical perspective is needed to not only add balance to leadership scholarship, but to also provide deeper insight into leadership practice. These sections seek to open the primary purpose of the essay – to propose Existential Leadership in organizational dwellings, which serves as a home for group-in-fusion-praxis. We begin with an organizational level of analysis that first demonstrates the relationship of individual stories within organizational dwellings. We then demonstrate how people may come together and create an active group consciousness, while maintaining individual integrity, and continue their work in good faith to achieve liberating goals.
The last two sections within the framework of Existential Leadership in organizational dwellings move toward the larger public sphere with discussion of practical freedom within the practio-inerte and reorienting Modern Capitalism. This point of the essay transitions to the work of Arendt that articulates the role of Existential Leadership within the public sphere by positing the human condition of plurality and natality through action. While working within the larger public sphere, Arendt illuminates the practical reality of creating meaning through enacted stories within a web of relationships and engaging human freedom in action and speech. Overall, our essay presupposes the Existential edict, existence before essence, which guides our understanding of good faith human praxis to achieve liberating goals, rather than an essence of a new form of Capitalism to determine human action. We attempt to construct a philosophical entry that permits Existential Leadership to stand as a response to the ongoing call for leadership within an historical moment.
Changing Conceptions of Modern Capitalism
Modern Capitalism as a guiding ideology for business practice has been questioned recently by scholars working to identify the emergence of a new sense of Capitalism that goes beyond a profit motive to attend to meaning and purpose in human life and environmental concerns. In 2007 Hart published a book titled Capitalism at the Crossroads: Aligning Business, Earth, and Humanity, calling attention to the significant positive and sustainable social change business can forge when partnered with governments and civil society, but only with a changed mindset of Capitalism. Hawken and colleagues (2008) coined the term Natural Capitalism as a response to a changing historical moment in which industrial age Capitalism is no longer suited. Natural Capitalism offers commensurability between business and environmental goals to protect the natural world and posterity of future generations. Sisodia et al. (2007) argue that Natural Capitalism is necessary for a new age with new rules that no longer tolerates scandal and misconduct of business, which has generated widespread public cynicism. They propose companies focus on a higher purpose and passion, which can enhance the well-being of all stakeholders. Eisler (2007) in The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics presents an understanding of Capitalism she believes is more humane and effective, and later in a similar vein, Hartel and Brown (2011) discuss the idea of caring economies aligned with other topics of values and ethical leadership. Freeman et al. (2007) recognize the importance of value creation coupled with stakeholder theory in proposing Stakeholder Capitalism, which they believe provides a new narrative for Capitalism that opens up ethical implications. The term Creative Capitalism was used in an edited book by Kinsley (2008) to describe how Bill Gates and Warren Buffet advocate integrating ‘doing good’ into doing business. Gates also called for a new understanding of Capitalism in a speech he gave at the 2008 World Economic Forum.
Moreover, Grace Neville published an article highlighting Green Mountain Coffee as a case study for Conscientious Capitalism (2013). Bishop and Green (2008) offer Philanthrocapitalism to show how those who have benefited from technology and globalization can give back in order to address societal issues including climate change, poverty, and disease. A year later, Buchholz (2009) published the text, Rethinking Capitalism: Community and Responsibility in Business. In it, Buchholz acknowledges the value of philosophy and offers different ways to interpret and reorient Capitalism, which he utilizes in discussions ranging from individualism and rights to the social self and community. Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus also calls for Capitalism to address social issues in his texts, Building Social Business: A New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanities Most Pressing Needs (2007) and Creating a World without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism (2010). Porter and Kramer’s (2011) Shared-Value Capitalism aligns economic and social needs to enhance the well-being of business and society. They argue the success of business is dependent on healthy communities. Most recently, Mackey and Sisodia (2013) present the idea of Conscious Capitalism as a liberating movement for Capitalism to become a heroic force with a new narrative that responds to the greatest challenges of society. The term Conscious Capitalist was used earlier in Strong’s (2009) text, which focuses on social entrepreneurship to address global issues.
These new understandings of Capitalism have emerged in the past ten years and continue to gain scholarly interest. The multiplicity of terms for describing new variances of Capitalism appearing in the literature illuminates a fracturing of the Modern Capitalist meta-narrative. While globalization appears to be a homogenizing force, individual companies are realizing a one-size-fits-all approach of efficiency and progress, and even of best practices and capabilities, fails because uniqueness of multiple stakeholders and the firm’s distinctive purpose are ignored. Recognition of this phenomenon has fostered recent interest in Existentialism in business ethics (Agarwal and Malloy, 2000; Ashman and Winstanley, 2006; Jackson, 2005; Liedtka, 2008; West, 2008) and Existentialist themes such as authenticity, ontology, and phenomenology in leadership scholarship (Algera & Lips-Wiersma, 2012; Fry & Kriger, 2009; Jones, 2014; Ladkin, 2006; Ladkin, 2010; Ladkin 2012; Ladkin & Taylor, 2010). Two scholars specifically, Lawler and Ashman, have made direct connections between the philosophy of Existentialism and leadership studies (Ashman, 2007; Ashman and Lawler, 2008; Ford and Lawler, 2007; Lawler, 2005; Lawler and Ashman, 2012). These scholars who write from philosophical perspectives are considerably outnumbered to social scientific perspectives even though the latter engage philosophical terms such as ‘authenticity’ in their research (Champy, 2009; Clapp-Smith, Vogelgesang, & Avey, 2009; Costas & Taheri, 2012; Dhiman, 2011; Diddams & Chang, 2012; Gardiner, 2011; Gardner, Cogliser, Davis, & Dickens, 2011; Hannah, Avolio, & Walumbwa, 2011; Hmieleski, Cole, & Baron, 2012; Hsiung, 2012; Macik-Frey, Quick, & Cooper, 2009; Mazutis & Slawinski, 2008; Neider & Schriesheim, 2011; Peterson, Walumbwa, Avolio, & Hannah, 2012; Peus, Wesche, Streicher, Braun, & Frey, 2012; Rego, Sousa, Marques, & Cunha, 2012; Rego, Vitória, Magalhães, Ribeiro, & e Cunha, 2013; Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing, & Peterson, 2008; Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, & Avolio, 2010; Wong & Cummings, 2009; Woolley, Caza, & Levy, 2011; Yammarino, Dionne, Schriesheim, & Dansereau, 2008). Overall, the emergence of this research illuminates a recent phenomenon, described as The Second Age of Transcendence (Jones & Bharadwaj, 2013) where scholars and leaders of organizations are raising Existential questions regarding consciousness of purpose and influence on the lives of others. Rather than relying on the bad faith meta-narrative Modern Capitalism, or even more inclusive new forms of Capitalism, which may still be in bad faith, organizations and their leaders are poised to choose their actions and to be responsible for these decisions.
Working from a platform established by scholars seeking to ground authentic and ontological leadership philosophically, and discuss leadership in relation to Existentialism specifically, this essay seeks to take the next step to propose theoretical development of an understanding of Existential Leadership at the organizational level of analysis. Through this endeavor we are also responding to Liedtka’s (2008) call for more philosophical depth in leadership scholarship and from Ciulla (2006) for perspectives from the Humanities in leadership scholarship. Primarily, we recognize the opportunity to bring the work of American Existentialist, Hazel Barnes, into the conversation, which we believe is necessary for the philosophical development of Existential Leadership. Whether discussing Existentialism in business ethics or leadership studies, all scholars have ignored her works. If Barnes is referenced at all, it is only her translation of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (1943). Perhaps even more so than Sartre, who turned toward Marxism in his later career, Barnes remained within the Existentialist tradition with her works, Humanistic Existentialism: The Literature of Possibility (1959), and An Existentialist Ethics (1967). Additionally, her text Sartre (1974), offers more than just a sketch of Sartre’s philosophy, but adds her interpretation of his Existentialism that provides her own contribution to the philosophy.
The following articulates an Existential Leadership through the lens of Barnes at the organizational level of analysis. We specifically state an Existential Leadership to parallel Barnes’s intentional use of the article in An Existentialist Ethics to demonstrate that what we propose is not the Existential Leadership, which would account for the multiplicity of Existential perspectives (e.g. Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Tillich, etc.). However, we will use the term Existential Leadership without the article ‘an’ for the sake of readability. Later in this essay, we transition to the work of Arendt to demonstrate how Existential leadership may be engaged in the public sphere. While Sartre turned toward the public sphere later in his career with his Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), we believe Arendt is a more fruitful scholar to engage in this discussion because of her focus on action within the public sphere.
Existential Leadership in Organizational Dwellings:
A Home for Group-In-Fusion-Praxis
Existential Leadership is a newly developed understanding of leadership that situates leaders within organizational dwellings and communicative engagement with others that promotes cooperative praxis to uplift human freedom for meaningful existence. Existential Leadership involves leaders utilizing human freedom to make choices and to be responsible for these choices in good faith. The works of Sartre (1943; 1946) and Barnes (1959; 1967; 1974) provide a necessary philosophical frame for Existential Leadership that moves leadership theory beyond ontological orientation (in-its-self), which scholars have focused on with authenticity, to the domain of responsible action (for-its-self) directed toward good faith choices along with the liberation of others. The Existential for-its-self is always a consciousness of something, which presupposes something outside of oneself. Existentialism is not a philosophy of the individual, as some have critiqued, but rather a philosophy that engages the freedom of individuals as situated, or embedded within the larger society, organizations, and interactions with others. This embedded agency (Arnett, Arneson, & Bell, 2006; Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009), also reconstitutes an influential change in relationships with others, organizational dwellings, and the larger society in the manner in which Sartre claims in choosing, one chooses for all humanity; “our responsibility is thus much greater than we might have supposed, because it concerns all mankind” (1946, p. 24). In this sense, the in-itself-for-itself relation may be understood at a level of analysis intimately tied to the public sphere. The following discussion presents a Barnesian perspective of Existentialism at the group/organizational level of analysis.
The Interrelationship of Stories and Dwellings
Stories (individual lives) and dwellings (cultural contexts) are co-informative where dwellings provide the backdrop (Arnett, 1998) of lived stories, but whose stories reaffirm and extend dwellings toward new horizons. Without dwellings to guide, individuals find themselves in a state of “existential homelessness” (Arnett, 1994) and without individual stories, dwellings become fixed ideologies composed of cult members incapable of possessing an “enlarged mentality” (Arendt, 1958). It is important to maintain this narrow ridge (Buber, 1947), where one side falls prey to excessive individualism (Arnett & Holba, 2012) while the other side turns into hegemonic regime. For example, unrepresented groups who succeed in overturning their oppressors need to resist becoming what they originally despised. Organizations run a similar risk. Most often businesses are initiated by a creative vision of an entrepreneur who does not enter the marketplace for the sole sake of making money (Mackey & Sisodia, 2013); however, without deliberate care for its purpose, the business may become so narrowly focused on profitability, which is ultimately a self-defeating strategy. Barnes’s interpretation of Sartre’s group-in-praxis provides insight for people coming together for a common purpose, which may then be related to an organizational context in an organizational dwelling.
Barnes argues Heidegger’s translation of dwelling as an abode or place is incorrect; the fundamental meaning of the word may more accurately be translated as custom or habit without suggestion of locality. While critical of Heidegger in many regards, Barnes utilizes his ideas in a constructive fashion to move on to what she finds more important, which is what one does with one’s being. She concludes, “whatever Being is, if it is, it offers no clear apodictic message as to what we should do about it. We must still make, each of us, our own being by means of our specific projects in the world,” which ought to be ultimate concern for oneself and mankind (1967, p. 423). Dwelling is a creative human activity and as such can be consciously chosen to maintain through habit and custom, or human praxis in Sartre’s terms. For this purpose, Barnes turns to Sartre’s idea of group-in-fusion praxis found in TheCritique of Dialectical Reason (1960) where Existentialist ideals of freedom and choice merge in group praxis, which may ultimately achieve goals of liberation.
Transforming from Passive to Active
Barnes describes how a passive unity exists among people in the parctio-inerte, or in Sartre’s terms, a plurality of solitudes each existing with their own projects. Even when people are grouped together, which could be on a bus, as residents of a city, or members of an organization, they remain a collection of people who are not present to one another, but to the same object such as riding to some destination, living in an apartment building, or doing prescribed organizational functions. To move from passive to active, Barnes refers to the need for a “consciousness rising” – an “attempt to overcome serialization, to transform passive, external unity into the common action of a group” (Barnes, 1974, p. 121). Consciousness rising involves orienting attitudes of group members to overcome the passive separation. When this occurs there exists a group-in-fusion of group consciousness and a sense of “We” (p. 121). For the We to succeed, they must come together around a common mission (Sartre refers to the taking of Bastille) and they cannot be dissuaded by the “Look of the Third” that can paralyze them to be only what the Third sees (p. 122). Hence, they can be inhibited by their own self-image derived from the Third.
Important to note is that the individuals who make up this We do not lose their individual subjectivity such as partaking in a cult. Individual subjectivity remains intact while the “union which is realized is accomplished not by a union of consciousnesses but by means of common action in the world outside” (Barnes, 1974, pp. 123-124). In this manner, Barnes asserts Sartre distances himself from sociological anthropologists such as Durkheim, who view groups resembling a metaphysical entity (p. 124). For Sartre, an organism cannot be used as a metaphor to describe a group; “No all-inclusive consciousness exists over and above the individual consciousnesses of the group’s members…the group-in-fusion is held together by a common praxis. Union is based on free, shared action” (p. 124). Action is the key term that holds the group together, which goes beyond the initial feeling of mutuality.
A primary characteristic of group-in-fusion praxis is the ability for the group to accomplish a project, which is true to each member, but could not be accomplished on an individual basis. At this point, Barnes refers to Sartre’s example of the group running on its hundred legs. No one is the group is ascribed leader; “we are all united by what we do” but at the same time, this communal initiative does not alienate each member’s subjectivity (1974, p. 125). Even more, through group praxis, individual members’ freedom is augmented. Barnes writes, “not only does the group achieve the common goal of its members who could not attain it alone, but the group enables each one to fulfill his distinctive individual capabilities in a way which he could not do in solitude” (p. 125). Group-in-fusion praxis both controls the material world and liberates people from it.
Sustaining Group-In-Fusion-Praxis in Good Faith
While so far the discussion points to group-in-fusion positive effects on human existence, Barnes provides helpful caution as well. She makes clear that controlling the material world through group-in-fusion is to control the economic reality to which humans created. Good faith group-in-fusion does not permit destruction of what humans have not created such as the natural environment. Additionally, the Existential goal of uplifting human freedom must remain central to group-in-fusion praxis. For example, while the Nazis were certainly successful in organizing around a common goal, their pursuit cannot be described as group-in-fusion praxis, because their goal and horror oppressed and extinguished human freedom. Moreover, Sartre’s immersion in this lived-experience of World War II, like other major scholars whose work emerged similarly, played a fundamental role in shaping his ideas about human freedom, which certainly cannot be used in turn to substantiate the terror he witnessed in occupied France. The Nazis also turned into a hegemonic regime that swallowed all individual subjectivity,1 which is counter to group-in-fusion praxis where balance of We and I must be maintained.
Sartre describes this balance as the common individual – the “ideal of uniting individual fulfillment and community” in order to overcome serialization and enhance freedom (Barnes, 1974, p. 127). This ideal is not easily maintained. On one hand, it is fleeting and evanescent in building to the point of the common individual, and one the other hand, once achieved, runs the risk of disintegration. Also, while directed to group-in-fusion, the common individual views others within the group as allies, setting aside differences while working toward a common goal. However, when the group-in-fusion falls apart, differences among “serialization amid collectives” (p. 127) become fodder for contention. Barnes is critical of Sartre’s frequent connection between combat or competition and group-in-fusion praxis. While Sartre admits that the recollection of the shared experience of danger and struggle may serve to keep the group united, Barnes points to other possibilities beyond the agonistic situation that offer hope for maintaining the common individual within group-in-fusion praxis. In fact, the celebration of combat may instill a violent attitude that could be directly toward the fraternal group thereby replacing community with hierarchy.
Practical Freedom within the Practio-inerte
The action that arises involves a commitment to values and to a better future, which must supplant the “materialist myth” (Barnes, 1974, p. 101). Sartre extends his philosophy to the group level where he claims that because people’s existence is contingent upon what they choose to be, people may also transcend any established order toward another. Moreover, this argument may also be applied to shared values, which have the possibility to be transcended. Change exists temporally or contingently within the context of historical moments where emerging questions about existence and values are met and cannot be predicted, but may be foreshadowed by “the very efforts to transcend the present society toward another” (Barnes, 1974, pp. 101-102). She writes, “we have no means, no intellectual instrument, no concrete experience which allows us to conceive of this freedom” (p. 103), so what is needed is practical freedom for people to fulfill their projects in the world.
As such, lived experience is the role a person plays in effecting the situation by “perpetually projecting himself out of the past toward his future and always within the compass of a world already worked out by others” (Barnes, 1974, p. 114). A person’s human condition is tied up within this web of lived experience, but is still ultimately free; “he is his choice of being, for his choice of being is the way that his consciousness relates itself to the world and organizes its experience” (p. 115). A person has an opportunity to utilize freedom of choice to make meaning and take a new point of view for oneself, others, and ultimately human history.
Barnes observes in Sartre’s work the necessity for praxis within the practico-inerte; otherwise, study on the subjects of being and consciousness remain within philosophical analysis. Praxis is defined as “any purposeful activity, whether individual or group; it is always action in the world” and the practio-interte is “the world of worked-over matter in which praxis inscribes itself” and is “far more than the physical world. It is the whole weight of the social environment, the prevailing customs and institutions, the public media, the very language I speak” (p. 119). Barnes also recognizes that praxis may be directed toward certain action, but it is not a teleological process due to the ever changing reality of the human situation described above. The result of praxis may be a “counterfinality” (p. 119). Consequently, praxis is hopeful, but is not optimistic – a term connected to a false sense deterministic certainty (Arnett & Arneson, 1999, p. 208).
Reorienting Modern Capitalism
So far, this discussion has focused generally on Barnes’s interpretation of Sartre’s group-in-fusion praxis. However, at the end of her chapter on this subject, Barnes turns to more specific application in division of labor. She uses this example to illustrate that the disintegration described above does not stem from human error and weakness, but rather human structures that accompany existence within the practio-interte (1974, p. 128). She writes, “division of labor, for example, even though it may initially be based on the recognition of differentiation in talent and ability, results in separation of the members from one another, both in space and in the quality of their daily activity” (p. 128). As such, decision-making is not conducted as a group, even if group members approve of it passively. The resulting hierarchy sees “the emergence of a sovereign or chief – either in the form of a single leader or of an executive committee” that may turn into a contentious relationship of distrust and passive obedience in fear of disapproval from the authority (p. 128). There is an ironic risk that the very group who merged in praxis to engage freedom may turn into “the bureaucracy of a pyramid structure” that suppresses freedom through impotent separation and alienation of the lower levels whose work fulfills the material acquisition of those above (p. 128). Thus, Existential Leadership in contemporary Capitalism needs to reorient traditional hierarchical bureaucratic structures into more participatory environments that uplift human freedom within the organization along with people outside of the organization in the public space in which the organization interacts.
Barnes concludes that Sartre’s hope is to offer an understanding of social processes with appropriate praxis to resist bureaucracy where within the group “each ‘common individual’ is also a free self-creating person” (1974, p. 129). While the Critique (1960) may be observed as an analysis of negative forces within the practio-interte, Barnes offers a constructive interpretation of the hope that exists within the subtext of Sartre’s work. She ponders the possibility of moving to a point where “human beings need no longer feel that they must be inhuman toward one another” (p. 129), which she takes up as an investigation in her Existential Ethics (1967). This essay views the role of Existential Leadership and sustainability within the context of a fragmentation of the meta-narrative of Modern Capitalism that responds to the question: how can Existential Leaders work to foster positive social change? While Sartre and Barnes provide the necessary background for Existential Leadership, the work of Arendt opens up understanding for the meaning of an enlarged mentality and praxis in public space for contemporary Capitalism.
Situated within Arendt’s (1958) explication of ‘common space,’ Existential Leadership considers the history of past business practices that influence present activities and will leave an imprint for future generations. Moreover, Existential Leadership responds to a call for a philosophical engagement of action to meet existential moments without guiding precepts of Modern Capitalism. This attention to Arendt’s understanding of action further textures the argument insomuch as it invites conversation on organizational freedom as natality and the initiative induced by a world of plurality. By utilizing these philosophical frameworks, we argue that organizational dwellings offer public space for engaged collective deliberation and action as a mode of human togetherness to promote Existentialist goals of human freedom.
Existential Leadership within the Public Sphere:
The Human Condition of Plurality and Natality through Action
For Arendt, the human condition is understood through the three-fold interaction of labor, work and action. Labor is done in and for itself and allows humans to meet basic biological needs (Arendt, 1958, p. 7). Work “provides an ‘artificial’ world of things, distinctly different from all natural surroundings…[and] the human condition of work is worldliness” which permits humans the ability to procure wants instead of just meeting basic needs (Arendt, 1958, p. 7). Action occurs without desire for meeting basic needs or wants, but is undertaken in recognition of the multiplicity of man’s existence. Arendt writes, “Action, the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter, corresponds to the human condition of plurality, to the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world” (Arendt, 1958, p. 7). By recognizing the inherent multiplicity of existence, Arendt offers a response to the existential understanding of action as rooted in praxis. Undertaking a contemplative view of man’s ability to act not just to meet basic needs or extend to the procurement of wants, Arendt directs our focus to how our actions in public permit an enlarged mentality to emerge.
This understanding of plurality as fundamental (Gardiner, 2011, p. 101) is not just one aspect of human existence, but for Arendt, it is “the condition…of all human life” (1958, p. 7). It is only through action that plurality can exist, because action provides the framework for questions of not only how we can live, but how we can live together (Vivier, 2012, p. 87). Through action, human beings have the opportunity to insert themselves in the common world and interact with others, to engage new experiences, and to embrace new opportunities that permit the shaping of diverse worldviews. By engaging in new experiences and interacting with man’s plurality, we experience a sense of natality through action. As we insert ourselves into new situations, interpersonally or organizationally, we experience a sense of newness, a birth, that brings new perspectives and insights to the creation of our own identities and larger sense of existence. The connection between action and natality occurs because “…the newcomer possesses the capacity of beginning something anew, that is, of acting. In this sense of initiative, an element of action, and therefore of natality, is inherent in all human activities” (Arendt, 1958, p. 9). Natality is Arendt’s attempt to recognize that at any point someone might engage in an action that begins something new in the world (Dolan, 2004). The ongoing new experiences can help broaden organizational viewpoints that permit a sense of natality and creativity to develop within an organizational dwelling.
Creating Meaning through Enacted Stories in Public Space
Man’s interactions outside the private domain require a shared common space where labor, work, and action can occur. Public space is the shared world that acknowledges the existence of other human beings who can see and hear everything that appears in public, as well as the common world itself (Arendt, 1958). Moreover, the public domain or public space is the place that gives meaning to labor, work, and action insomuch as the public sphere is created when people work together in concert, not autonomously, while still protecting and promoting the goods of interspaces, plurality, and natality (Arendt, 1958; Arnett, 2013; Fritz, 2012; Arnett, Fritz & Bell, 2010; Benhabib, 2000; Benhabib, 1990; Biskowski, 1993). Only within the public sphere can existential leadership and embedded agency be enacted in a healthy and productive organizational dwelling.
Arendt describes the interactions of man within the world as a web of relationships. Within this web exists narratives, or stories, that ground our actions and function as moral guideposts. The world becomes not only where we exist, but also a record of how we exist. All action depends on the public domain and the ongoing presence of others to whom we reveal aspects of our individual and collective identities (Young-Bruehl, 2006). The revelatory nature of these exchanges can further be viewed as a form of action insomuch as the exchange can serve as a way to share insights of self and other along a continuum that attempts to both understand and interpret history as part of the continuing life story that informs the plurality of man (Benhabib, 1990). True understanding and interpretation comes through what Benhabib (2000) terms “narrative action” in which action is “embedded in a ‘web of relationships and enacted stories.’” (p. 125). Thus, by inserting ourselves into the human world, and by extension an organizational dwelling, we again experience a sense of natality that is further textured into a meaningful sense of existence through the plurality created within a web of relationships and enacted stories.
Existential Leadership calls for an uplifting of human freedom and a recognition of embedded agency. Through the metaphors of natality and plurality, Arendt presents insights akin to Existential Leadership through action. She writes, “If action as beginning corresponds to the fact of birth, if it is the actualization of the human condition of natality, then speech corresponds to the fact of distinctness and is the actualization of the human condition of plurality, that is, of living as a distinct and unique being among equals” (Arendt, 1958, p. 178). To this end, it is the realization that action and speech permit man to live among others as action-oriented participants in the world. Moreover, this interconnectedness between natality and plurality, of action and speech, help us to consider ontological questions of existence and identity.
In addition, the relationship between action and speech further helps us understand each other because it is through the exchanges of action and speech within the web of human relationships that we “realize our freedom and unique identities” (Biskowski, 1993, p. 876) that leads us to the freedom of choice found in an engagement of Existential Leadership. Action, above all, is the fundamental idea that drives our understanding of both natality and plurality. Action is so essential, in fact, that Arendt (1958) suggests it is “the one miracle-working faculty of man” that permits us to engage in praxis. Action fuels praxis that encourages man to think, act, and then evaluate the action. The ongoing contemplation of thought and action prevents us from engaging in unreflective practices and routines (Arnett, 2013) that can turn us away from Existential Leadership and back to a more modern existence fueled by the secular trinity of efficiency, progress and individual autonomy (Arnett, 2011). Arendt explicates the need for action and cautions against unreflective practices that could damage the public realm and humanity. Thus, Kristeva (2001), reminds us “Arendt drew a link between history and the deconstruction of the mind to show that life is not a ‘value’ unto itself, as humanistic ideologies would have it, but something that is realized only if it constantly questions meaning as well as action” (p. 42). We must know why we act in order to have a true philosophical understanding of praxis and Existential Leadership. By situating Arendt’s understanding of action within ‘public space,’ we attempted to position plurality and natality within the conversation of ideas that helps to inform an understanding of Existential Leadership.
Future Research and Conclusion
This essay responded to Liedtka’s (2008) call for more philosophically grounded study in Leadership and leadership study from a Humanities perspective (Ciulla, 2006). We utilized the works of Sartre, Barnes, and Arendt to extend understanding of leadership for socially responsible organizations. Future research may utilize this theoretical development to examine contemporary marketplace practices and consider implications of an organizational dwelling where ‘good faith’ is part of the ongoing fabric of leadership. One such study may be examining the creation of and world-wide projects initiated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The philosophical considerations in this essay may be applied to better understand how these ideas can take shape. Operating under a mission that every life has equal value, while at the same time embracing the ideal of difference, the Foundation focuses on health and development issues by building strategic partnerships and providing funding, support, advocacy, and education activities on a global scale (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2008). Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation illuminate aspects of the practice of Existential Leadership to foster the freedom of others rather than impose a homogenous way of Being. However, our philosophical analysis also may point to constructive opportunities for the Gates Foundation to continually engage in Existential Leadership and enact vigilance as suggested by Arendt in order to avoid potential hegemonic transformations as Sartre and Barnes cautions. This example is more aligned to Existential goals of liberation, which is a good place to begin to look at an organization through the lens of Existential Leadership. However, we believe the insight from Barnes and Arendt presented here is valuable to myriad organizations because it fundamentally embraces an ideal of difference or alterity among organizations and publics.
We believe Existential Leadership offers hope for positive social change (Bies et al., 2007) fostered by uniquely situated organizations within the public sphere. By acknowledging the complexities of global issues while being responsive to the pluralities of local communities, good faith calls Existential Leaders to be mindful of actions to protect and promote the Other’s freedom and not exploit the ongoing challenges within a global marketplace. Contemporary scholars have recognized the failure of Modern Capitalism to deliver on its optimistic promises; however, we believe that the appropriate response is not to develop a new guiding meta-narrative. We contend, instead, to engage in Existential Leadership practice situated within unique organizational dwellings, human communities, and the natural environment. In good faith, Existential leaders are responsible for their free actions within organizational dwellings that correspondingly offer an opportunity to make positive contributions to benefit the fabric of humanity.
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1 People such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who presented a fervent threat against the Nazis for the sake of human freedom offer an interesting subject for future analysis within the Existentialist framework discussed here.