The First Hole
Socrates and the Midwife
Leadership is midwifery. Pull what you can from individuals’ minds by asking questions. Individuals then become aware of their abilities to be engaged and to take pride in their work.
The first hole is a reasonably straightforward 373-yard par four with a green that is guarded by a “burn”
(a Scottish euphemism for a death-by-water hazard).
A short bald man with a scruffy beard, and clothes that appeared to have been slept in was standing on the first tee, seemingly in a trance as he stared down the fairway. Bud approached him and extended his hand in greeting. No response. “Good morning. Would you mind if I joined you today?” No response. Then another golfer came up beside them and whispered that Socrates often did this when a dilemma perplexed him; people simply have to play around him when he is deep in thought. Bud took a closer look. Yes, he now saw the resemblance to a bust that he had in his office, picked up in a market in Athens many years before – the same snub nose and large protruding eyes. He waited a few minutes as the previous group made its way down the first hole. Suddenly Socrates shook himself and murmured, “Yes, definitely a 5 wood, slight draw into the wind, then a three-quarter swing with a seven iron. The ball will land on the right side of the green and roll down to the left within ten or twelve feet. One putt – birdie – perfect.”
Bud stood back, impressed with the imaging and sheer intensity of concentration that this strange fellow had just demonstrated. But would theory translate into action? Socrates stepped up to the ball and, like the cartoon version of the Tasmanian devil, swung hard, pounding his ball straight out of bounds. He teed up a second ball and swung mightily again: the ball skipped off the end of the tee box. Strangely, Socrates seemed totally unaffected by these mishaps. He carefully replaced his 5 wood in his bag and, after waiting while Bud effortlessly drove his ball slightly left of centre to avoid out-of-bounds on the right side, they started walking. Bud couldn’t help but notice the seeming discrepancy between the intense strategising before the first swing and the actual technique and outcome; he had to ask Socrates about it. The response was dignified yet curt: “Theory is perfect, humans are fallible.”
As they proceeded down the first hole, with Socrates eventually making the green after five shots (plus his 2 stroke penalty) and Bud landing safely on his second swing, he asked Socrates what it was like being the world’s most famous philosopher. “Actually, I always thought of myself more as a midwife of ideas,” was his reply. Bud, who was not trained in philosophy or in midwifery, pressed him for details; he was, as usual, more than happy to accommodate.
Midwifery and Giving Birth to Ideas
Socrates. Philosophers are lovers of wisdom. Of course, they love the knowledge, beauty, and truth they discover themselves, but some also feel a calling to help others become philosophers, or at least philosophical in their daily decisions. They do this because they believe that of all of the components of being human, it is our capacity to reason - to think logically through problems - that makes us uniquely capable of good and evil. If we could only be more philosophical, more truth seeking … just wiser … we would have better tools to construct and maintain the “good life.”
Now personally, I believe that pure forms of knowledge of all things exist within us, though I know that this is not a terribly modern perspective. Nonetheless, I believe that they reside in our souls from birth. In other words, we have the capacity to know truth in all of its forms if only we are able to tap into our souls. This is obviously easier said than done because we often don’t know what questions to ask ourselves to get this information out to the conscious level – we need help to do this. Unfortunately, most of us never receive this kind of help; rather, we are told what to do, and how, when, and sometimes why to do it – our parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses leap in to guide and control so that we behave obediently and according to what society and organisations dictate. This is the “mind is a blank slate” notion made so popular about two thousand years after my death by two fellows named John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. They believed that we know nothing when we are born – we are not pregnant with ideas – and therefore we must have our minds filled by those who do know things.
In contrast, I believe that the mind is not empty, but profoundly full of ideas waiting to emerge – waiting to be born. Whether or not you actually believe that the soul contains these truths isn’t the point; what is important is that we all have ideas. Many of them are profoundly practical and some are deeply philosophical, and the leader’s task is to help us bring these ideas to the light of day.
For example, in one of Plato’s dialogues, the Meno1, he wrote about me having a conversation with an uneducated slave to demonstrate that we have innate, or inborn, knowledge. During this conversation, despite the fact that this fellow had had no formal training in geometry, he was able to arrive at Pythagoras’ theorem by responding to the questions I had carefully selected for him. What Plato was getting at here is that regardless of what hidden knowledge one is trying to extract from a pupil, if you ask the right questions, he or she will arrive at or give birth to the correct answer eventually and will feel empowered by doing so. The opposite approach, of course, would have been to tell the slave about the theorem and hope for a successful regurgitation, possibly with little or no understanding. Does this approach sound familiar – like contemporary teaching strategies used from kindergarten to university?
As you can see then, my perspective is that the job of the philosopher is to act as a midwife, helping individuals to give birth to and become aware of ideas they already have so that those ideas can be used to live well. This simple process has been called the Socratic method of teaching.
Reviews by Business and academic leaders
"This is truly a fascinating book. It makes the ideas of the great philosophers meaningful to everyday life. A remarkable achievement."
(Dale Eisler, Senior Policy Fellow, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy,
Former Assistant Deputy Minister, Natural Resources Canada & Consul General to the USA)
"It's very accessible. Over nine holes of golf we are introduced to the ideas of some of the great thinkers and shown how we can all become applied philosophers, using these ideas to lead better lives. The world needs more applied philosophers!"
(Elizabeth Fistein PhD MRCPsych
Ethics and Law Lead, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge)
"What if you could play a round of golf with history's most provocative philosophers? The Enlightened Dead gives us that opportunity and at the same time offers a practical guide to leadership. A great read for fans of golf, leadership and philosophy."
President, MeetingZone North America
"As an advertising entrepreneur, we are in the “winning ideas business” and this book offers meaningful insights from Socrates, Aristotle and other great minds to help give you a “competitive and meaningful advantage” in today’s business world. There is something for every business person."
President & CEO, BSTREET Group
Toronto, London, New York
"Having followed the works of modern leadership theoreticians such as Frederick Herzberg, Douglas MacGregor, Tom Peters, Jim Collins and a slew of other notables, I was intrigued to learn that their theories reflected the thinking of the great philosophers.
Play a round of golf with a few of these philosophers in "The Enlightened Dead" and learn the origin of foundational theories of organizational behaviour."
Leadership Advisor and Strategist
Putting leadership and golf in the same hole