It is in difficult moments that true leadership is discovered. And more and more, with teams of more diverse generations and mentalities, with new cultures and technologies, the leadership challenge only tends to increase. One possible answer may be to pay more attention to the affections, to the individuality of each team member.
Spinoza is known as the philosopher of affections, dissecting dozens of them (love, hate, melancholy, jealousy, pride, envy, desire, etc.). He lived in Amsterdam in the 17th century, died at the age of 44 with an immense work written, and had Einstein as his most famous follower.
A great lesson from his philosophy that can be brought into the corporate world is conatus, a concept that describes the power of each person, their strength to persevere. Everything that happens to us affects our conatus positively (generating joy and contentment) or negatively (generating pain and melancholy). And, just as we have different tastes and tastes, each individuality has its own “rhythm” of response to good and bad encounters.
Every minute, we are affected both from the outside in and from the inside out. According to Spinoza, “when the mind is seized with some affection, the body is simultaneously affected whereby its potency to act is increased or diminished.”
Internally, our thoughts and biological functions cause our conatus to fluctuate. If you are thirsty and can take a drink of water, you feel joy. If you have no way to quench your thirst, you feel pain. If you are reminded of a mistake you have made, you may feel shame and thereby lower your conatus. If you happen to remember an achievement, you feel pleased with yourself and raise your conatus.
On the external side, even more so during a great tragedy like the covid-19 epidemic in which we live, we are affected successively in our (now more virtual) encounters with other people by news and events. Each such encounter affects our strength to persevere. And here comes the role of the leader in positively boosting the conatus of his team. With so much bad news, so many fears and pains, how can we ensure that, at least at work, everyone has their power increased?
A negative conatus can lead to low performance and new conflicts that, in other contexts, would not emerge. No matter how much “goodwill” and encouragement everyone has to work, no matter how much self-motivation and inspiring speeches, Spinoza states that we are still fragile in relation to the external world: “Human potency is quite limited, being infinitely surpassed by the potency of external causes.”
But what can a true leader do? The first step is to recognize that every event, every encounter affects each team member differently. It is the famous popular saying, also quoted by Spinoza in his book Ethics: “Every head, one sentence.” So, do you know what increases or decreases the conatus of your team? Who gets excited about a new, unexpected challenge, and who gets destabilized? How is the momentum in your team? Do you manage individually the different reactions to the external effects your team receives and recognize levers for each employee?
By identifying what increases the power and particularity of each one, the leader becomes closer, more inspiring, and generates the confidence to go through difficult times. By listening, recognizing, and acting on what increases the “persevering power” of your team, you will improve the climate, collaboration, and results, becoming a Spinozian leader, a true conatus transformer. And the complexities of today’s corporate interactions and cultures demand this new kind of leadership.