A few days ago I was having lunch with my mom (something I’m trying to do more frequently now that I live 15 mins away from her). She’s one of the top therapists in the LA area and during lunch she was telling me about a class she is taking focused on Imago therapy which is a form couples therapy.

She mentioned that as a part of the class, she is doing some work based on Dr. Martin Buber and his theory of “I and Thou.” I thought it was interesting but didn’t really want to spend my lunch talking about relationship therapy concepts so I switched the subject.

The following day I was interviewing best-selling author Michael Bungay Stanier (episode will go live in the coming weeks). In preparing for that interview I took a look at some clips of Michael’s and was surprised when I stumbled across an interview he did where he also talks Martin Buber and “I and Thou,” what are the odds of that happening!?

Naturally I was intrigued and spent more time delving into Martin’s work.


You probably know what it feels like to be vulnerable in your personal life, but what about at work? Should we really just be talking about our mistakes, failures, challenges, and feelings in a business environment where we have a different dynamic? And what about if you’re in a leadership role? The answer may really surprise you! The best thing you can do drive performance, create trust, and unlock the potential of those around you is LEAD WITH VULNERABILITY. This book will show you how.

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Martin Buber was a Jewish philosopher who introduced the “I and Thou” (Ich und Du in German) concept in his 1923 book of the same name. The idea focuses on two primary modes of existence and ways of relating to the world and to other people: the “I-It” and the “I-Thou” which as you will see later is not just applicable in the world of therapy and relationships but also very relevant and applicable in leadership

  1. I-It: This mode is characterized by treating others as objects or means to an end. It’s a detached and objective way of relating to someone. For instance, in a business setting, if a manager views their employees merely as cogs in a machine who are expendable and replaceable, they are operating in the “I-It” mode.
  2. I-Thou: In contrast, the “I-Thou” relationship is one of deep connection and mutual respect. It’s a holistic and genuine encounter where both parties are fully present, recognizing the inherent worth and uniqueness of the other. A leader who takes the time to understand the aspirations, challenges, and strengths of their team members is embodying the “I-Thou” relationship.

The intriguing part is that an “I-Thou” relationship cannot possibly exist without vulnerability.

In the context of leadership the “I and Thou” concept can be seen as a framework for understanding how leaders relate to their teams, stakeholders, and even competitors and directly aligns with transactional and transformational leadership styles.

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