David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

Ayn Rand

post # 308 — February 13, 2007 — a Careers, General post

When I posted last Friday’s blogpost, making the point that “No-one will look after you , you have to manage your career yourself,” my wife reacted by saying “Wow, David, that’s tough! You usually write upbeat, inspirational material. What’s going on?”

Kathy is right that there was a different tone to last week’s post, but I’d like to try and reconcile what I said then with the (more inspirational?) things I have previously advocated in my books and articles.

The key message is that the willingness to take responsibility for what happens to you, and to make things happen, is the beginning not only of healthy thinking and exciting productive careers, but also of a life of integrity, standards and relationships. These things, I believe, are connected.

Ayn Rand was (and remains) a major influence on my thinking, although I’m not sure she would recognize and endorse even a small fraction of my current thoughts and writings.

For those who need an introduction, Ayn Rand was an author who wrote “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” two novels that communicate her philosophy of “enlightened self-interest.” She also wrote non-fiction books about her philosophy — objectivism — but it’s the novels that have had the biggest impact. I first read her books when I was 17 (and met her briefly when I was 18.)

It would be hard to summarize an entire philosophy in a few words, but one way might be to say that she thought that each person should stand on their own two feet.

This doesn’t mean you never help others, nor accept help from others — just that you should never EXPECT it as a matter of rights or obligations. Others may choose to help you, and you may choose to help others — but the key, is that it’s a matter of choice. In a truly free society, nobody has a “claim” on your efforts, nor the “obligation” to help you — unless they choose to.

When taken up to the societal level, this leads to a political philosophy of “libertarianism,” but I don’t want to discuss politics or political philosophy here. This is a blog about business, professional life and professional services.

Contrary to what many people think at first, “no-one owes you and you don’t owe anyone” is NOT a pessimistic message of dog-eat-dog, where we’re all against each other. It’s a point of view that says “Not much can be done unless I get people to help me, but I have no CLAIM on their help, so I have to learn how to make them WANT to give it freely.”

If you start from the assumption (or the real-world observation) that everybody else is a free agent, you can’t expect others to give you what you want unless you deal with them in ways that make them WANT to give it to you.

That means the only way to really succeed in a society of free people is to be a person of integrity, honor, skilled at earning relationships and trust — to be someone others want to work with.

If no-one OWES you anything as a matter of right, then you need to work at making them want to give you things — and that means giving them what THEY want, in fair, enlightened exchange. And that means being consistent, dependable, intimate and not too immediately self-oriented: All the things that make up the trust equation in THE TRUSTED ADVISOR.

This is meant to be GOOD news, not sad news. If the negative aspect is that you can’t rely on any one else to clear the path for you, the optimistic, positive, healthy thing to say “I’m in charge of me — I can make things happen for myself if I accept the responsibility to do so.”

As Ayn Rand would point out, there’s great liberating power in that way of thinking (especially in contrast to an opposite which begins by saying “I can’t achieve things because other people don’t give me chances.”) People who think the world (or their firm) “should” be looking after them will probably fail to develop important attitudes and skills, as they wait for others to act. As Ed Kless wrote on my blogpost: “When are we going to recognize that Ayn Rand was right in a lot of ways — ‘The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.’

As I see it, there’s nothing in the “Take responsibility for yourself and expect that of others” that prevents you from being a generous person — with those you choose to be generous with.

So that’s my argument. It’s the very fact that you ARE on your own that leads to the conclusion that you need to be an honorable, caring, high integrity, relationship-building person. Being generous, kind, trustworthy, attentive to others and a person of high integrity is not, I believe, inconsistent with the philosophy (and the REALITY) that you must take ownership of what happens to you, but a logical consequence of it.

But maybe, in the eyes of some readers, I’m trying to have it both ways. I start from the proposition that I don’t OWE anybody anything (and they don’t OWE me anything) and end up saying that FOR THAT VERY REASON those who will succeed are those who take the initiative to build bonds of relationships with the bosses, clients and employees that you CHOOSE to have relationships with.

  1. Does anyone out there have a different view of all this?
  2. Are there others out there who were influenced by Ayn Rand and have struggled to live by her principles (pure or modified) in their daily lives?
  3. Or those who have rejected her philosophies as a guide to personal and business life?
  4. Do you agree that Ayn Rand’s core philosophy is not only consistent with idealistic, high-standards behavior, but can be (is?) the cause of it?

29 Comments

Karen Morath said:

Unfortunately I was 40 before I read Ayn Rand. I am constantly challenged by her ideas as I continue to polish my own. David, your role is not to be inspirational, although often you are, but to challenge us as Ayn Rand did to decide for ourselves what we think.

posted on February 13, 2007

William Moon said:

I was surprised to see Ayn Rand’s name as the title of this blog. I agree with everything you said in regards of helping people and receiving help back from people.

I’ve read the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged a number of times and the only problem I have with objectivisim in general is the core assumption of the “perfect man.” Rand’s heroes seem to be superhuman, almost unreal. It took me a while to reconcile this within myself. For the most part, I try and live to most of her principles the best that I can.

I should revisit Fountainhead and Atlus Shrugged again.

I think her core philosophy could be used as a platform for consistent, idealistic behavior but eventually someone could twist the ideals into a radical intrepertation. For example, “Since I’m the smartest person in the company, I should tell everyone how wrong they are and not carry forth their projects.”

A friend of mine had an intense discussion about Ayn Rand and objectivism and we concluded that “Objectivism wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the Objectivists.”

posted on February 13, 2007

Ian Welsh said:

Unfortunately it’s impossible for me to seperate Ayn Rand’s philosophy from the way it is used politically to justify very selfish policies. You should never expect anyone to look out for you, but that does not mean you should not look out for others.

Altruism and empathy are as much a part of human nature as are the selfishness and self-interest Ayn glorified, and Ayn’s philosophy, to me, is as off kilter and one sided as Rousseau’s noble savage.

Man is neither beast nor angel, selfish nor altruistic, but is a contradictory animal who encompasses all of that and more. And a human alone is barely human at all.

posted on February 13, 2007

gl hoffman said:

I read ayn rand when i was in my mid twenties and searching a bit, probably, for something to believe, or understand.

I devoured ayn rand’s books and i think reading them has impacted my life in all sorts of ways. One has to pick and choose a bit—-her views on volunteerism are a bit off, imho. But, I still give ATLAS SHRUGGED as graduation gifts…grads tell me years later, that my gift was a gigantic motivator in their own lives as well. I cant wait for the movie.

posted on February 13, 2007

Bryan I. Schwartz said:

I agree with Kathy. A little idealism is good. We do not live in the world alone. We should expect people to help us and we should call them on the carpet when they do nothing.

Convincing ourselves that we are all alone may be rational and correct, but if it is true, it is damn lonely to grace the planet. I believe that idealism, and the continued and renewed belief in idealism, is a good thing. This idea that we have to be a cold and emotionless fish is starting to take hold. We can stop it by calling it out, laughing at it and doing the opposite, no matter whether the favor is returned or not. This is the wrong direction. We need to talk more about being inspired in the first place and being inspired by others in the second place.

posted on February 13, 2007

Tom said:

I first read Atlas Shrugged a few years after I defected to the UK from the communist Hungary. I found it interesting but also preposterous. My conditioned “communist” mind was still hard at work. But all in all, I liked it and accepted many of her philosophies. After moving to Canada in 1998, friend and mentor, Robin Elliott drew my attention to Ayn Rand’s work again, and I started read her books again. Now from a healthy non-communist perspective.

I love her enlightened entrepreneur concept, and while she says we have to be able to stand on our own feet, she also says that two heads are better than one, and healthy collaboration can lead to great accomplishments.

I regard her books, especially Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, as highly valuable in my own transformation from the by-product of communism to a true believer in “laissez faire” capitalism.

posted on February 13, 2007

Ed Kless said:

So many things to say here.

I have just turned 40, so like Karen, I am only just a recent discoverer of Ayn Rand, but I have to admit she has become an instant influence. I wish I had read her at 17, but perhaps the student was not ready.

I find that almost all criticism of Rand comes in the form of a misinterpretation of her opposition to altruism. As David points out, she was against forced altruism.

This leads to an important point in my mind. Professionals, indeed all people, who believe that their live is spent in service to others are often (not always) deceiving themselves into thinking that they are “doing for others.” In many cases, they are not; they are really doing for them because it makes them feel good or assuages their own guilt.

On poetic and extreme example of this can be found in a lyric from the current Broadway musical Wicked. In making her transformation to “wicked” from good, Elfaba (known to us as the Wicked Witch of the West) sings, “One question haunts and hurts; too much too much to mention; was I really seeking good; or just seeking attention; is that all good deeds are; when looked at with an ice-cold eye; if that’s all good deeds are; maybe that’s the reason why; No good deed goes unpunished.” I don’t not agree with Ayn Rand on 100% of her philosophy, so therefore according to her I am not an Objectivist, but she sure has made me rethink many things.

Lastly, if anyone is interested there are two Ayn Rand interviews (one with Mike Wallace and one with Phil Donahue) posted on youtube. To quote another of my influencers, Peter Block, watch them at your own peril, “Safe return doubtful.”

posted on February 13, 2007

David (Maister) said:

Bryan – here’s the dilemma I wrestle with. I also believe idealism (and ideology) is important. The reconciliation I struggle towards is that the ideal state is where people come together in mutual commitment because they have *voluntarily* as free agents signed up for the same cause, driven by the same rules and principles.

In my view, that requires that the cause and the principles be explicit, so everyone knows what mutual obligations they are extending when they sign up.

It also means that if I know everyone’s on board, I can deal with them with concern, support trust and, yes, even “humanity.”

What troubles me is when I see organization without a clear cause or principles, so people “pretend” to be mutually committed, but they’re not really.

Again, is this consistent? Or am i trying to have it both ways?

posted on February 13, 2007

Alan Stevens said:

David,

You are right on the mark. I read The Fountainhead in my early twenties, and it was a life changing, truly spiritual experiance. The irony is that Ms. Rand was militantly athiestic. I saw her argument for enlightened self interest as an affirmation of the infinate, divine value within each of us. I doubt she would recognize my worldview as related to hers, but I must acknowledge the positive effect she had on my personal evolution.

Alan

posted on February 13, 2007

Andrew Smith said:

A propos of nothing, a lot of people of a certain age and musical persuasion will have been exposed to the ideas of Ayn Rand through Canadian rock band Rush. Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart was heavily influenced by Rand, and many of their early songs were based on her concepts of “enlightened self interest” eg Anthem, Something For Nothing – indeed, their album 2112 was a concept album based (loosely) on The Fountainhead.

What am I getting at? Back in the late 70s, Rush got a mauling in the UK press for their backing of Ayn Rand – they were painted as right wing fanatics – a complete misinterpretation, but symptomatic of media thought at the time – didn’t stop many Rush fans from thinking for themselves about what enlightened self interest meant. So I don’t doubt that many people buy into the concept – but that doesn’t make it any easier to live by it – it brings with it effort – it is not the easy route – and as Rush sang, you don’t get something for nothing…

posted on February 13, 2007

Alexander Kjerulf said:

I have never read Ayn Rand, but I agree with what you write here David.

I would like to add one thing: While it is true that we should never “EXPECT help as a matter of rights or obligations”, there can be a lot of benefit in expecting to get help simply because people are nice and the world is a nice place.

This doesn’t come on its own – it requires precisely the things you write aobout, e.g. being trustworthy. And then it requires something more, namely a belief in the underlying goodness of other people AND a willingness to be a nice person yourself.

People will go to HUGE lenghts to help nice people. I know I do.

So you CAN expect help – not because it’s your right, but because people ar nice and the world is a nice place. But only if YOU are nice. Does that make sense?

Would Ayn Rand agree?

posted on February 13, 2007

peter vajda said:

I believe that when one truly “gets” the (spiritual) notion of interconnectedness, then the negative energetic tug and pull (read: selfishness) between and among folks dissipates.

So, what arises, is a “felt-sense” of “I am”, i.e., selfish, but without the negative present-day connotation “It’s all about me.” flavor, without the competitive (egoic) underpinning and a conscious, responsive, non-reactive choice, to support others from a selfless place. Self must come first, but not at the expense of building walls to protect our self from others and not allow others in.

For me, I choose to think Ayn Rand is pointing to self-realization…I’ve chosen to interpret Rand’s “selfish” notion as “self love”…that one needs to honor and love one’s True and Real Self, not the egoic self, in order to be able to love others, and life itself. Self-love allows for true and real (“inner”) autonomy which supports intersubjective relationships, true and real connectivity, consciously with others, from a heart-felt and soul-felt place, as opposed to the present-day notion of ”selfish” which brings one to see others, reactively, unconsciously simply as objects, as functions, where one “gives to get” — the latter, not unlike many duplicitous, fake environments in the corporate world, and life and in many relationships in general.

posted on February 13, 2007

Lisa Guinn said:

I have read and re-read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged many times over the past 20 years. I strongly believed in Ayn’s philosophy. Having cancer forced me to re-think my very independent position. I continue to appreciate the ideals of self-actualization and enlightened self-interest. At the same time, I have become much more gentle in my judgements of myself and others. I now find Ayn Rand’s tone a bit shrill and harsh when she criticizes those who do not help themselves.

posted on February 13, 2007

Peggy said:

Great post (as is the prior one you linked to). I’ve worked in HR for a long time, and I know that although we work hard to create fair and supportive development and promotions policies, ultimately people have to be in charge of their own careers. Each program we develop requires the employee to be actively engaged in developing his/her career if it’s going to work.

Recent research out of Berkeley shows that individuals who believe that their hard work will have a bigger impact on their success than luck will end up being more successful. Unfortunately, the same research indicates that women tend to rely on luck more, and men rely on hard work more – hence a gender gap. See more here at this link.

Keep up the great work!

posted on February 13, 2007

Richard Becker said:

David,

The last I heard, “Atlas Shrugged” was still ranked among the most influential books in the world, second only to the Bible. While this may have changed over the last decade (I do not know), Rand’s philosophies are as relevant today as they were then, sometimes even offering a startling foreshadow to the world around us.

I have always attempted to live by the philosophy that it is win-win or no deal, which later translated into being a beneficial presence among those I live with, work with, and engage (not for them; but for me and, hopefully, them). These basic ideas belong to Ayn Rand as much as anyone, and they are good things despite sounding pessimistic in the current climate. I’m thrilled you brought her up.

Rich

posted on February 13, 2007

David (Maister) said:

For those of you who ARE Ayn Rand devotees, please address the following question: How does a “Rand-ian” manager behave? What does he / she ‘owe’ to those he or she manages? Do you ask more of them? Less? Do you treat them differently? Do you manage differently if you follow Rand’s ideas?

How does a true Randian manager behave?

posted on February 13, 2007

Lyman Reed said:

That’s got to be one of the best explanations/interpretations of Ayn Rand’s philosophy that I’ve ever heard. It’s all about the individuals own expectation, and the right of other’s to say yes or no. There are some great comments on it too.

I’ve been struggling with integrating Rand’s ideas into my own life for awhile now myself. I first read “Anthem” when I was 12 or 13, and “Atlas Shrugged” in my late teens/early 20′s. It can be difficult to mix her hard edge with compassion, but can also be a great way to live.

Thanks for the post!

posted on February 13, 2007

Richard Becker said:

David,

I admit to being a bit foggy since it has been some time since I asked “who is John Gault, anyway?” but I’ll give your questions a go with the hope to entertain this conversation.

It seems to me a “Rand-ian” manager might ask someone to build a bridge (if a bridge is needed), but not tell them how to build a bridge with the hope they will build a better bridge or something better than a bridge. (Yes, there’s a bit of Gen. Patton in there, by the way.)

He/she owes nothing to those he or she manages, but would provide for their own purpose: a free-thinking, positive, creative, perhaps competative environment with only enough guidiance that the employees would meet, and perhaps exceed, expectations. They do not strive to provide happiness, but provide and protect an environment where people might find their own happiness. Such happiness, in turn, produces better results.

You might ask more of them, but generally they will deliver more anyway. I might ask them if they did their best, and if so, that might be good enough. They will certainly make decisions on their own, but also hold themselves accountable. And yes, you might treat them differently, but only in that it is best to treat people on their terms.

Of course, as I said, I’m a bit foggy. It’s time to dust the book shelf. Perhaps someone else might enlighten me.

Rich

posted on February 13, 2007

David (Maister) said:

Richard – a great start. Howard Roarke would be proud of you. anybody else want to add to Richard’s description of the Randian manager?

posted on February 13, 2007

Harry Binswanger said:

I also read Atlas Shrugged at age 17, after hearing Ayn Rand speak at MIT, where I was a freshman. It led me to change my major to philosophy, and I got my Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia U.

Being in New York for Columbia, I attended public lectures by Ayn Rand, and gradually got to know her personally. By the end of her life, I was one of her close friends. (To anticipate questions: she was just like the heroines of her novels: a unique combination of intense passion and complete rationality.) I’m now on the Board of Directors of the Ayn Rand Institute and teach Objectivist philosophy at their Academic Center.

David Maister asks how a Randian manager would behave. Well, rationally—but that’s a very generalized description. More concretely, he would call on the self-interest of his employees, motivating them to perform their best in the knowledge that they will be treated with justice—i.e., rewarded for their productive contribution not for how they play “office politics” or engage in backstabbing.

A good model here is John Allison, head of BB&T bank and a very serious student of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. You can read about BB&T’s philosophy here:

http://www.bbt.com/bbt/about/philosophy/values.html

BB&T is the nation’s 11th largest financial institution and has over 29,000 employees.

posted on February 14, 2007

Dan Smith said:

David, thanks for this interesting post. I didn’t read Ayn Rand until my late 20′s, and at that point The Fountainhead became, and still is, one of the top 3 most influential books on my personal philosophy and way of thinking. I’ve read her other works of fiction, but none impacted me quite like Howard Roark and The Fountainhead, mostly because it spoke to something already inside of me.

I’ve been in management for many years, managing both small and large groups of people. I think I generally let the people ‘under me’ ‘get away with’ too much stuff that normal hard-line managers wouldn’t, but I don’t want to bother with micro-managing them, and I’ve realized that most people respond well to the freedom I give them, and they end up working hard for me and being great producers.

I believe my approach of giving people freedom and treating them fairly, with respect, believing they are competent, and rewarding true production, has been influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophies.

posted on February 14, 2007

Michelle Golden said:

What a fantastic post. I have not read Rand, but now have an enormous curiosity. Especially because Andrew Smith mentioned her influence on Rush and I often quote their lyrics (particularly around the complacent tendencies of the accounting profession: “…if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice…”).

At any rate, there is much to deliberate on, but one particular thing I wanted to mention was David’s stating: “It’s a point of view that says ‘Not much can be done unless I get people to help me, but I have no CLAIM on their help, so I have to learn how to make them WANT to give it freely.’”

The way I see it, “help” must usually be earned (deserved?) much the way trust and respect must be earned. Sure, you’ll find the occasional person willing to generously offer any of these before a recipient proves him or herself and that is called “benefit of the doubt,” is it not? Or “blind faith” as when we hire a guru or advisor because of reputation and not personal knowledge of trustworthiness or respectability.

But possibly “help” is the one thing we hold back a bit on in the business world until one is proven. Whereas in our personal lives, we are more inclined to help strangers…

I agree with the notion that we should live and act such that we are continuously earning these things if we are to be successful and regarded will in business—and in life.

posted on February 15, 2007

Merusavarni said:

I think Ayn Rand is very relevant in one’s professional life, which i beleive is driven by certain objectives and hence all shades of objectivism can be effective in producing job satisfaction. Atleast in the worst case, by following Rand, one may not end up whining a lot with the “I’m OK. You’re not OK” attitude. In my role as career counselor and mentor, this is what i face in every conversation. THe challenge for me is always to get them take responsibility for their lives, in an objective manner.

But i also think that in one;s personal life, this situation is very different and Ayn Rand may need to be radically modified, depending upon the cultural, religious, spiritual and ethnic ways of life that one finds one self engulfed in.

I also think that if a society’s professional and personal life were both to be structured around Rand’s philosophy, then that society will soon collapse under its own “weight of objectivism” i.e. if fathers and mothers gave up their parental love because they think their offspring need to be responsible for their own lives, and no hand holding is reqired or if they decided to “outsource parenting” itself, then societies will be very violent.

posted on February 16, 2007

Pepita Bos said:

Harry Binswanger said:

David Maister asks how a Randian manager would behave. Well, rationally—but that’s a very generalized description. More concretely, he would call on the self-interest of his employees, motivating them to perform their best in the knowledge that they will be treated with justice—i.e., rewarded for their productive contribution not for how they play “office politics” or engage in backstabbing.

This comment intrigues me. Calling on the self-interest of the employees. How can that not result in politics (be they office politics or not)? I would say that securing one’s interests becomes an automatic play for power when interests of employees do not align with eachother or that of the organization.

Also I would think that in an organization managers and employees alike can expect help from their co-workers to achieve the organization’s goals. I think they can claim it. It is part of the deal when they company and the employee signed a contract. I think the whole principle of organization is to work together and not to let someone stand on his own two feet.

So at this moment I fail to see how Randian philosophy fits into organizations. Admittedly I am not very familiar with the work of Ayn Rand. However, I am a student of the philosophy or management and organization, so thank you David for the inspiration to further my thinking.

posted on February 20, 2007

David (Maister) said:

Pepita, I think the key point I take away from your remarks is the phrase “part of the deal when the company and the employee signed a contract.”

For me, the whole point is that how people will deal with each other, what they can expect from each other, and things like rights and obligations, are ALL left very implicit and vague. What you think is implied by “signing a contract” may not be understood the same way by others.

Hence, for me, there is a need to write down what rights and obligations people have, so they know what they are agreeing to and can expect from others.

posted on February 20, 2007

Harry Binswangaer said:

Pepita asks why playing politics and back-stabbing are not in one’ self-interest. The short answer is: because honesty is in one’s self-interest. Playing politics, to me, means deceitful, manipulative behavior, not honest competition. Same for back-stabbing. Don’t they represent not achieving your actual self-interest but, instead, faking achievement in the short-term hope of gaining an unreal advantage? That was Ayn Rand’s view.

In fact, the difference between real accomplishment and phony jockeying for position is the theme of The Fountainhead. The book’s hero, Howard Roark, refuses to compromise, refuses the “play the game” vs. his antipode Peter Keating, who does just that. In fact, now that I think of it, Keating uses office manipulation repeatedly near the beginning of the novel, to rise at his firm.

For a while, Keating succeeds and Roark fails, in the business sense. But by the end, their positions are reversed. This makes sense, because the game-player is not actually creating value, which is what success in business is all about. To the extent a person is playing office politics and manipulating people, he’s acting as a parasite, not producing—in fact, he’s throwing sand into the gears of production. And production is what business pays for.

Okay, I’ve found a quote from The Fountainhead that shows Ayn Rand’s view. This is from near the climax of The Fountainhead, when one of Roark’s friends talks about Keating:

“”I’ve looked at him—at what’s left of him—and it’s helped me to understand. He’s paying the price and wondering for what sin and telling himself that he’s been too selfish. In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self? What was his aim in life? Greatness—in other people’s eyes. Fame, admiration, envy—all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others. There’s your actual selflessness. It’s his ego he’s betrayed and given up.”

posted on March 4, 2007

Harry Binswanger said:

I know my name is hard to spell, but you’d think after 62 years, I’d get it right! Should be “Binswanger” not “Binswangaer” as I spelled it in my prevous post.

posted on March 5, 2007

Ken Hedberg said:

As with many of the commenters, I also read Ayn Rand as a teenager. My parents followed her with commitment, and I found her philosophy compelling. As I continued my education, I felt her ideas also underpinned the moral philosophy of Adam Smith and the political philosophy of Frederick Hayek, two of my lifelong heroes.

As I see it, all of these bodies of work have coincided to sustain the ‘liberal revolution’, starting in the 18th century Age of Enlightenment. Setting aside the modern political connotations with the term liberal, the origins of liberalism over 250 years ago centered on freedom of the individual – economic, political, social. For me, freedom (liberalism in its original definitions) has shaped my philosophy of life, including the freedom to act but also carrying with it the responsibility to shape my actions as a member of civil society.

I find three flaws in Rand’s Objectivism. First, we are all members of society and bear a responsibility to sustain it through our actions. As Donne put it, “No man is an island, unto himself…” Rand rejects the social nature of humanity in too many ways.

Second, her call for rationality also ignors, even rejects, the emotional content of the human experience. Nothing happens without emotion. It’s no coincidence that motive, motion, locomotion, motivation, and emotion all spring from the same etymological roots. Nothing happens without an emotional drive. Pure rationality is devoid of energy. Managers must understand the emotional content of relationships in order to create and support a positive energy and commitment to shared goals and direction. In my coaching experience, I frequently find myself helping leaders understand the relevance of emotion, including an awareness and acceptance of their own emotions at play. The greatest movement toward improved leadership often comes from understanding this. The modern term is ‘emotional intelligence’. Objectivism misses the central role of emotional intelligence in leadership.

Third, I think she (like many of the commenters as well) misinterprets ‘politics’. Indeed, politics in our society and in organizational life certainly can devolve into the manipulation and back-stabbing of competing personal agendas, but it doesn’t have to be so. Every organization is essentially political. A central definition of ‘politics’ is “the art of science of government or governing…” Leaders must govern the organizations they lead, taken to mean the accumulation and use of power in governance. Enlightened governance is political, but it need not descend into the abyss of manipulative maneuvering in the service of personal gain.

So, while I have cherished the challenge, focus, and entertainment of Ayn Rand’s writing, I place it in its rightful place (for me, at least) as an engaging but flawed view of the world. I have seen too many quintessential ‘Rand-ian’ managers who end up disrupting their organizations and their own careers through misguided attempts to reject emotion and positive politics in their role as a leader driving to make things happen.

posted on March 5, 2007

adam said:

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is mainstream in America. Concepts like sharing, compromise, sacrifice are long gone. Selfishness/self-interest are king in America, the downside is that there is more social isolation, lonliness and depression. Everyone is busy trying to make the world a better place by working towards thier goals, but as a whole the state of the world and mankind seems to be getting worse (community, family, friends, etc.)

posted on March 17, 2007