What Does Virtue Have to Do with Leadership?

The ancients, particularly Socrates (through Plato) and Plato, believed “Virtue” to be an absolute that one came to understand through the application of reason. For Aristotle, Virtue was something you didn’t deduce in the abstract but rather something you lived, to the best of your ability. In particular, it was about living fully the life that nature has enabled you to. So, the cobbler should live a cobbler’s live fully and a teacher the best teaching life he or she can.

In the US in the eighteenth century, Virtue was a big deal for the founders of the new republic. People like Adams and Jefferson and their elite contemporaries believed Virtue was something you could model only if you were “disinterested,” that is you were not held hostage to demands and temptations that pressured you into certain decisions and actions. They believed that only “gentlemen” who were free from economic ties and above having to work manually in occupations were able to practice virtue in society.

In our modern world we accept that anyone, regardless of his or her work or station, can be virtuous. Today being virtuous means operating with high moral standards, with integrity. And probably the number one characteristic of the most effective leaders is integrity; do you walk your talk?

The other connection Virtue has with leadership is to what extent you lead with the best in mind for others and the wider organization and community, rather than for your own self-interest. The more we move from leading from a reactive stance (responding to cues from others in our environment that can help or hurt us) and toward an outcome-creating stance (being guided by our inner strength and values), I would say the more Virtuous a leader we become.

© 2014 – 2016, Ian Cook. All rights reserved.

Ian Cook About Ian Cook

Ian Cook, presenter and consultant, works with managers who want to increase their effectiveness as a leader and build a stronger team. To book Ian for a training seminar, team facilitation or keynote presentation, call toll-free at: 1-888-FULCRUM (385-2786) or e-mail: ian@888fulcrum.com. For more articles and book reviews of interest to managers please go to: www.888fulcrum.com.