The Virtue(s) of Leadership

Someone on Quora asked what virtues extraordinarily good leaders have, to which I answered, “why, all of them, of course…” And I went on, as I am wont to do, because one of the not-so-classic virtues, imho at least, is going beyond the obvious.

The classical virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. I’m going to approach this from a slightly different direction though, which I hope is what you were looking for when you asked me to answer this. I’m going to opine on what happens when you fail to exercise each one of these. And I think I’ll start with… fortitude. I choose fortitude, because it’s the one most people associate with leadership and it’s the easiest to deal with.

Guess what? If you lack fortitude, you will never get to be a line supervisor, much less something with more responsibility. People without fortitude don’t move. They don’t even take the first step that we’d agree indicates the willingness to lead.

Next: temperance, because lack of it is what gets you on the evening news. And, if you’re high up enough and your lack of temperance crashes into a lot of other people’s rights, you’ll probably make CNN, MSNBC, and FOX as well. And you know what happens after that… at least when virtue triumphs.

Prudence is a little more difficult. It’s what you do when you have to trim your sails to the prevailing winds. You make reasonable decisions because you try to balance things like, say, listening to other’s concerns with continuing to just flap your jaw. Call it self-discipline, call it reason, whatever you like. It is the opposite of putting your foot in your mouth on an hourly basis. It’s basically truth, in all its lovely forms.

Finally justice, and I hope I don’t lose you on this one. In order to exercise true justice, you need to be able to think dialectically, to be able to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas in your head at the same time and come to understand the big picture that explains them within the same system. This is difficult, and I would be satisfied if just jurists, spiritual leaders, and counselors exercised this as needed. So I will be satisfied with a business leader who just confronts obvious injustice. Some examples? I’ll give you one and leave the rest to readers to weigh in.

Do not, for the love of justice, treat any human being as more or less valuable than any other on any basis whatsoever other than their actions deliberately directed at you. If you are a leader, feel free to grade someone on the work you gave someone in the context of what you told them before they started about your expectations and standards. But examine your heart, and if you grade someone less than someone who did exactly the same work, but has anything you personally – or any person you might randomly ask – consider an advantage, go back to the drawing board and do not rate yourself more than a failure.

That was my answer, and I stand by it today!

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