From the Reflective to the Phronetic Practitioner: Phronesis in Organizations
Professor of Strategic Leadership
Ivey Business School, Canada
Mary Crossan is a Professor of Strategic Leadership and a Distinguished University Professor – Western University’s highest honour for sustained excellence in teaching, research and service. She has a passion for scholarship that connects deep theory with practice, yielding award winning publications and impactful research on organizational learning, improvisation and leader character. Her current focus is elevating character alongside competencies in leadership education and practice. She is also an award-winning teacher who seeks innovative approaches to learning and development. She has been recognized as one of the top case-writers in the world and her Starbucks case alone has exceeded 100,000 copies distributed worldwide.
University of Queensland Business School, Australia
Bernard McKenna is Associate Professor at The University of Queensland Business School, Australia. Although his primary discipline is in communication, particularly discourse theory, since 2005 he has contributed significantly to wisdom research with "Wisdom and Management in the Knowledge Economy" (Routledge, 2010) and extensive articles in journals such as Leadership Quarterly, Public Administration Review, and Philosophy of Management, as well as numerous book chapters. His current wisdom research focuses on both empirical studies (e.g., Journal of Business Ethics and Leadership & Organization Development Journal) and non-Western wisdom traditions (e.g., forthcoming issue of Philosophy of Management focused on Indian wisdom traditions and management).
Professor of Business Ethics
Durham University Business School, UK
Geoff Moore is Professor of Business Ethics at Durham University Business School, Durham University, UK. In addition to work on Fair Trade, his research has focused on the application of virtue ethics to organisations drawing particularly on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre. He has published in a range of internationally recognised journals including Organization Studies, Business Ethics Quarterly and Journal of Business Ethics. He is a member of the editorial boards of Business Ethics Quarterly and Business Ethics: a European Review, and previously of Journal of Business Ethics.
The Columbia Ship Management Professor of Strategic Management
University of Cyprus, Cyprus
Distinguished Research Environment Professor of Organization Studies
Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, UK
Haridimos Tsoukas obtained his PhD at the Manchester Business School (MBS), University of Manchester, and has worked at MBS, the University of Essex, the University of Strathclyde, and at the ALBA Graduate Business School (Greece). He has published widely in several leading academic journals. He was the Editor-in-Chief of Organization Studies (2003-2008) and has served on the Editorial Board of several journals. He was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Science by the University of Warwick in 2014. With Ann Langley he is the co-founder and co-convener of the annual International Symposium on Process Organization and co-editor of the Perspectives on Process Organization Studies, published annually by Oxford University Press. His research interests include: knowledge-based perspectives on organizations; the management of organizational change and social reforms; organizational becoming; practical reason and the epistemology of practice; and meta-theoretical issues in organization theory. He has co-edited several books, including The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory: Meta-theoretical Perspectives (with Christian Knudsen, Oxford University Press, 2003) and Philosophy and Organization Theory (with Robert Chia, Emerald, 2011). He is the author of: Complex Knowledge: Studies in Organizational Epistemology (Oxford University Press, 2005) and If Aristotle were a CEO (in Greek, Kastaniotis, 2012, 4th edition).
Using an engaged scholarship approach we have sought to bridge theory and practice on leader character. Our intent has been to elevate character alongside competencies in business schools and organizations. I will describe the framework of leader character arising from the research, the importance of leader character as the basis for the practical wisdom (judgment) that must be exercised on a daily basis, and the opportunities for developing leader character.
My paper speculates on the diminishing capacity of professionals to adopt a phroentic approach to their work. Using Aristotle’s notions of technē and phronesis, I assume that a phronetic approach is virtue-based. The capacity to use “the ability to find some action in particular circumstances which the agent can see as the virtuous thing to do” is diminished, I argue, by the pincer of governance procedures, legal liability, and “the audit society” reducing decision making to the instrumental rationality of technē. As a result, wise decision making is endangered, diminishing the potential for societal eudaimonia.
To understand the phronetic practitioner in an organizational context, we first need a conceptual framework for the nature and purpose of organizations. This paper offers such a framework, based on the work of the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, within which we can identify the dual roles played by practical wisdom at the organizational level both in governing other corporate-level virtues and in directing the organization in the pursuit of a good purpose. Hence, we can identify the characteristics of the phronetic manager and the demands of phronesis on other organizational members.
From the reflective to the phronetic practitioner: Phronesis in organizations
In so far as organizations bundle things into classes or types and institutionalize structures, routines, and policies, they encourage generic, abstract and quasi-technical thinking. At the same time, however, organizations cannot function effectively unless practitioners (be they managers, professionals, front-line employees, etc.) act responsibly and perceptively on the ground – that is, apply judgment to particular situations facing them. Ever since Donald Schon eloquently introduced the idea of the “reflective practitioner”, organizational scholars have become sensitive to the epistemology of practice: the competence and artistry already embedded in skillful practice. In contrast to technical rationality, which views practitioners as technicians applying expert knowledge to solving problems, Schon perceptively highlighted the improvisational character of professional practice, the framing of issues practitioners tackle, and the valuable knowledge generated (and the learning that subsequently takes place) in the context of practice.
What, however, was not stressed in Schon’s account was the role of emotions, perceptions and agents’ moral qualities that are inevitably implicated in the exercise of reflective practice. This is where Aristotelian phronesis (practical wisdom) becomes highly relevant. Representing a kind of knowledge different from episteme (science) and techne (craft knowledge), phronesis stresses the importance of both situational appreciation and moral knowledge. Practitioners do not aim at merely solving problems technically, or at improvising but, also, at doing the right thing. The latter happens to the extent practitioners are driven by the telos of their practice, developing a certain character which orients them to the world in a particular way and equips them with a relatively stable predisposition for action. While practitioners certainly choose, they do so from a menu which virtues (character strengths) make available to them. Phronesis is the master virtue – the virtue without which other virtues fail to produce effective action. Phronetic judgments requires deliberative imagination: emotionally responsive attunement to the situation at hand; focusing on concrete particulars; bringing past experience to the present; and aiming at achieving the internal goods of a practice by following the latter’s standards of excellence. Phronesis brings together intuition and deliberation; technical, situational, and moral knowledge.
In this sub-plenary some of the leading contributors to researching practical wisdom in organizations will share their insights about how phronesis is exercised in organizations. Questions to be discussed include: When practitioners engage in phronetic judgments, what is it that they do and how do they do it? How is phronesis related to character? How do emotions and character strengths (or vices) affect phronesis? How is phronesis accomplished in organizational contexts? How do organizations hinder or facilitate phronesis? What are the prerequisites for phronesis to flourish in organizations? How do power relations impact on phronesis? How do institutional environments structure the way practitioners make phronetic judgments in organizations? How is phronesis exercised in rapidly evolving situations? How do leaders act as phronetic role models for followers?