Existential Leadership

Leadership topics for thinking practitioners and practical thinker

Just imagine trying to convey to an alien what leadership is all about. How do we as humans understand leadership? – And what is it actually about: leadership? – What sense does leadership make for us ? – So to which questions of being human is leadership the answer, for which problem is it the solution, who has this problem and how can we understand that and ourselves in it?

And anyway, »existential« sounds like a world‐​abandonment in Heidegger’s forest hut in Todtnauberg, like Sartre’s horn‐​rimmed glasses, libertinage, filterless cigarettes and musty black turtlenecks, like Kafka, Camus and the over‐​intellectualised Glass Bead Game or the »intangibility of that which surrounds us« in Karl Jasper’s philosophical work.

So why, of all things, should an existential perspective on leadership provide a practical understanding that can answer these questions? –What existential foundations allow a practical but also deep approach to these questions? – And how does this help me to better understand myself in my everyday leadership? – So what difference does »existential leadership« make?

The Existential Leader – An Authentic Leader For Our Uncertain Times By Monica Hanaway. Published 2019 by Routledge © Routledge

The Existential Leader – An Authentic Leader For Our Uncertain Times
By Monica Hanaway. Published 2019 by Routledge © Routledge

Monica Hanaways book »The Existential Leader – An Authentic Leader For Our Uncertain Times« (2019), was an important guide on our way to this blog. She puts it this way: »People new to existential thinking tend to link it to images of dark jazz clubs, the pungent smell of Gitane cigarettes, whiskey, coffee, amphetamines and sleeping pills, and a bleak nihilistic and selfish approach to life. … However, once they really take a look at what existential writers have to say, they may find that things can be seen very differently. The particular emphasis on temporality and time, with its constant reminders that life is short and we all shall die, may seem negative or defeatist but can also be seen as a clarion call to give each minute of life the importance due to something so fleeting. If we can do this, the world may take on a sharper and more interesting flavour. Indeed, we may find a world which is both more exciting, and more challenging due to its temporality, and where the need to consider and take responsibility for our own individual actions becomes paramount. (xiv). … Just as life is essentially relational and that we are always living in relation to others the same is obviously true in leadership. A Leader cannot exist without a follower. Each Follower will bring their own set of values, believes and meaning into their relationship with a leader. If we understand and work with this, we are beginning to approach leadership in an existential manner.« (xxvii)

This blog is intended to contribute to the dissemination of existential thinking and understanding, especially in the application field of organisational development and leadership. In addition to articles on central questions of organisation and leadership, contributions will include book launches and reviews on the aforementioned subject area and on topics of the times. The starting points of our work are logotherapy and existential analysis as well as Daseinsanalyse. We draw from hermeneutic‐​phenomenological and existential‐​philosophical sources, and existential, as well as existentialist thinking. Not least we both draw on a wealth of experience in leadership, management, policy and organisational consulting.

One of our concerns is also to enter into public and open dialogue with other traditions of thought, for example with constructivist schools of thought. A worthwhile goal would be to refer to common roots, and to develop exemplary complementary understandings that opened up a space for questions of being human in organisational contexts.

As organisers of the blog »Existential Leadership«, we also attentively follow the professional debate in the Anglo‐​Saxon language area to this end, which seems to us to be well‐​founded, rich and diverse and promises a further opening for existential thinking in the application field of organisation and leadership.

And so we also see ourselves as hosts: authors who identify themselves in these fields and have something to say are invited to contribute to this forum. The blog will be consistently bilingual (German, English). We welcome feedback and offers of contributions for publication. – The blog will be published approximately monthly and will be continuously updated on this page.

This blog aims to provide suggestions and impulses to these and other questions, in the best case formulate answers and stimulate dialogue on leadership topics between thinking practitioners and practical thinkers.

Georg Martensen
René Märtin