This post is one in a series where I’m going to take each of Sarah Bakewell’s twenty attempts at Montainge’s answer to the question ‘how to live’ and re-interpret them as an answer to the question ‘how to be a leader’. If that baffles you (and if you haven’t read the rest of the series, why wouldn’t it?), you can read my explanation here. You can find earlier posts in the series under the ‘How to be a Leader’ category in the navigation bar to the left.
Montaigne died on 13 September 1592 aged 59.
He made no great last speech, possibly because he was embarrassed by all the paraphernalia of the sick-bed scene he had to endure and certainly because his final illness increasingly constricted his throat over days and weeks. He was literally strangled him from the inside. A horrible way to go.
His last essay contained this thought:
‘Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself’.
As Sarah Bakewell says, either this is not an answer at all, or it is the only possible answer.
Work can give direction and purpose to work but it can’t give direction and purpose to life. Everyone I’ve ever met who’s been successful at work is successful at life first. Drive, energy, passion, will, focus; substitute your own list of qualities by all means but these are the things successful people bring to work. Lots of the time organisations are world class at grinding these qualities out of people and making it difficult for their energy to bring results. If I’ve learned anything from my experience at work, it’s to find people with these qualities and protect them from the worst of what’s around them ‘til they can fly without me. Wherever their flight may take them.
So to those that aspire to lead, I say be like Montaigne and understand that it’s about life. It’s about you and each member of your team, face to face, hoping for the best from one another. In the end, there are probably no abstract principles involved. It’s just simple humanity.