How developing an inner 'impartial spectator' can improve leadership ability

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Many scholars consider Adam Smith to be the first modern economist, but the 18th century Englishman was also a thoughtful philosopher whose ideas hold valuable lessons for contemporary leaders, according to an interview with Ryan Patrick Hanley, PhD, in strategy + business.

There are obvious ways to encourage leaders to maintain an ethical code of behavior, including legal regulations and community expectations, according to Dr. Hanley. However, these restraints are not foolproof and cannot truly ensure compliance with ethical standards. Instead, he advocated everyone cultivate a self-aware voice within their mind, known as the impartial spectator that is oriented toward the long-term values of the larger system.

However, Dr. Hanley also said Mr. Smith warns against the types of leaders who overestimate their own knowledge about other people.

"He writes, with disfavor, about a manager who moves human beings around as if they're pieces on a chessboard. The most damning aspect of this type of leader is that he thinks he understands the interests of other individuals better than the individuals themselves could understand," Dr. Hanley told strategy + business. "Smith refers to this attitude a number of times, as hubris, pride and the love of domineering. The point-blank lesson is that we should fear such 'men of system,' as he calls them, who insist they have all the answers and are ready to run roughshod over the self-interests of the other individuals in a company — or in society."

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