Phiology: The Secret Code of Leadership
Phiology isn’t a word. I made it up. It was necessary to invent such a label since no single discipline encompassed the synergy of physiology, psychology, and philosophy necessary for effective leadership. We humans also like to name things to codify them in our minds better. In fact, naming objects and concepts is one of our three primary activities, along with altering the landscape and making garbage.
Oxford University offered a Psychology, Philosophy, and Physiology (PPP) degree from 1947 until 2010, but apparently, Physiology has been replaced by Linguistics. Up until then, students had typically studied two of the three disciplines. Unfortunately, they took out the most important part of the triumvirate, the organization of the brain and body.
As human beings, we often think in threes. Whether it’s the three act play, movie trilogy, or count to three before performing a daring act, the number plays a significant role in how we make sense of information. The numberthreeis the lowest figure that can be used to form patterns in our mind.
The first instance of something occurring always comes down to chance; the second case is considered a coincidence; while the third instance is perceived as a pattern. The symbolism of three is the triangle, and when it points upward, it symbolizesrising energy. 
As you will understand after reading this book, the single most important thing a leader can do is mobilize the collective energy of their followers. The methodology behind the best way to achieve that end requires that we honor all three disciplines. Volumes have been written on each subject individually, but I have rarely seen any author or researcher connect the dots. When questions arise about what the most important factors are that lead to peak performance, we tend to focus on the brain and center around what and how people think. This brain-centric approach ignores the fact that a human being is a system, with all parts acting in harmony, and when out of balance, things tend to go awry.
This book is not a list of the greatest leaders of all time, nor a treatise about meaningless inspirational platitudes. It is not about how to communicate better, win friends and influence people, or make a million dollars. The purpose of Phiology is no less than the optimization of human happiness and prosperity which only arise when we are clear-thinking, healthy, and focused on important work for the betterment of all. While that seems like a gargantuan task, it is surprisingly simple. We make it harder than it has to be.
It is quite clear where to find sources of human suffering. When we look to the “commons,” we can locate the source, and unfortunately, the problems usually multiply from there. The well-being of any society encompasses the basics of survival - shelter, food, and clean water - but also includes accessible and affordable health care and education, a safe and secure place to live, stable peace among nations, justice in our legal and political systems, and a natural environment that is free from pollution. It is no surprise that every social problem stems from how well these systems and institutions are functioning.
This book is politically neutral and has no ideological agenda other than Ethical Philosophy, which concerns itself with positive actions and the avoidance of destructive emotions. Studies have shown that 80% of all problems in any organization are people-related, so it would appear that understanding why people do what they do would be of paramount importance to leaders. When we implement proper stewardship, people feel valued, achieve greater personal satisfaction, and expand their skills and competence. It is not debatable that these are the outcomes we should be pursuing.
What causes someone like Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, to raise his employee’s minimum salary to $70,000, while reducing his paycheck to the same amount? He called it a “moral imperative” to do so, and even though he said it was not his intent to attract the massive media coverage his decision drew, it sure didn’t hurt. Gravity’s growth has doubled since the move, and his employee retention rate stands at a mind-boggling 91%. Is ethical leadership simply better business?
For every Jack Welch, who would sooner sacrifice his children than a dollar, let’s hope there’s two Mark Benioffs. The CEO of Salesforce is a vocal critic of human rights violations and a proponent of social justice. He offers discounts on his products to higher education organizations and non-profits. Maybe, we can find three Jostein Solheims, leader of Ben & Jerry’s who ensures farmers get fair wages and agreeable working conditions. While making delicious ice-cream, he’s also working to get “big money” out of politics so that citizens can have a voice in their government again. Let’s develop four more Sally Osbergs, CEO of the Skoll Foundation, dedicated to brainstorming solutions to the world’s toughest problems through the Skoll World Forum. Is it possible to affect social change through ethical business leadership? There may be no other way.
Could it simply be a matter of thinking more clearly? Why don’t we just ponder the big problems and come up with better solutions? Of course, we all know it’s a bit more complicated than that. Unfortunately, human brains are no more advanced than they were 10,000 years ago. Due to a variety of factors, people advanced so quickly in the world that we never had the time or opportunity to evolve psychologically. We are riddled with the same fear and anxiety that our ancestors had when they were dodging sabre tooth tigers. This state becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as the physiological state that such feelings produce offer a severe impediment to rational thinking. We become emotional basket-cases under stress, and it keeps getting worse.
These persistent impediments remind me of a story about a mother repeatedly calling upstairs for her son to get up, get dressed and get ready for school. It was a familiar routine, especially at exam time.
"I feel sick," said the voice from the bedroom.
"You are not sick. Get up and get ready," called the mother, walking up the stairs and hovering outside the bedroom door.
"I hate school, and I'm not going," said the voice from the bedroom, "I'm always getting things wrong, making mistakes and getting told off. Nobody likes me, and I've got no friends. And we have too many tests, and they are too confusing. It's all just pointless, and I'm not going to school ever again."
"I'm sorry, but you are going to school," said the mother through the door, continuing encouragingly, "Really, mistakes are how we learn and develop. And please try not to take criticism so personally. And I can't believe that nobody likes you - you have lots of friends at school. And yes, all those tests can be confusing, but we are all tested in many ways throughout our lives, so all of this experience at school is useful for life in general. Besides, you have to go; you are the teacher."
The concept of Phiology can tame the wild beast. While we spend vast amounts of money on fighting an invisible terroristic threat, 800,000 people die of heart disease, primarily caused by stress. Once we learn to understand and get control of the physiological chaos, we can start sending better fuel to the brain. We can, in very real terms, start to think clearer. When we are more coherent, irrational and emotional decision making, based on unfounded fear, can dissipate. Only then can we begin the dialectic of how we can best coexist, flourish, and mobilize the energy of the masses in the direction we all want to go. A philosophical exploration of what it means to be alive, to be human, and how best to live is a conversation that we seldom get to amidst the chaos of everyday life.
This work is a curation of the best insights on leadership that I have found during the last decade of my research. However, insights are one thing, but actionable information is another altogether. The aim of Phiology isn’t to add to the scholarship of leadership, but rather, to give actionable information that you can start using immediately. The discoveries made will help you:
1.Control your physiology to achieve optimal performance.
2.Navigate obstacles by shifting your perception of events.
3.Decode the origins and fallacies of decision making, in yourself and by others.
4.Uncover vital parts of any system, revealing key leverage points that drive success.
5.Expand your influence in an ethical and meaningful way.
Those are big promises. Read on to have the goods delivered.