Posted by: Charlie | October 30, 2009

Socratic Leadership

SocratesMy friend and former Do Good Well blogger, Nathaniel Whittemore, has added a great post over at, “How Your Leader’s Expertise Can Become your Company’s Biggest Weakness.” The gist is that there is a changing nature of leaders in organization. Success is dependent upon humble leaders, both self-starters and experts at delegating. Through his experience leading the Global Engagement Summit, Whittemore explains that when you let the reins loose, often the team can create more than a leader could conjure on her own:

The lesson for leaders is to think soberly and humbly about the nature of the commitments they have to their organizations. Every leader’s arrangement is different, but to execute specific tasks as well as to coordinate the work of others requires investing a large amount in the leadership of others. What’s more, I think the lesson is for leaders to think about how they arrange support around themselves that’s related to their expertise, even if that feels counter intuitive when they’re trying to save resources for elsewhere.

An entrepreneurship professor of mine echoes this notion, coining the term “vulnerable leadership.” He argues that a leader must be able to strategically let down their guard to give space for the rest of the team to advance. I prefer to call it “Socratic Leadership.” While the leader may have most of the answers, as Whittemore suggests, it is his role to socratically advance the dialogue amongst the team. By suspending judgment and comment, the Socratic leader enables team engagment, conducts ideas as a conversation, and collectively creates innovative answers.  When success is increasingly determined by an organization or team’s ability to execute on brilliant ideas, the role of the leader necessarily morphs to support the whole.



  1. Does your blog have an RSS feed? Can’t seem to find one. Thanks.

  2. Great post, Charlie. This is something I have been thinking a lot about and have experienced myself in organizations I have led/been a member of. As you say, a leader in this day and age should bring out the best in those around him or her. In this way, the leader somewhat paradoxically becomes the supporting cast, not the main event.

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