The Virtues of Leadership

The Virtues of Leadership

Way back when I was studying for my Masters in Project Management, one of the core (compulsory) units was Leadership.

Mainly because Project Managers have to unify short-term teams of people. Most often while they report to a permanent management structure that doesn’t include the team leader.

Show them the way, so to speak.

I recall there being furious debate about the validity of different kinds of leadership theories. I’m a bit sad I lost my notes in a back up failure, but I can’t say I thought I’d need them nine years later.

Anyhow. The Virtues of leadership.

The Virtues were an Ancient Greek way of describing citizen classes. The considered it obvious that the ruling class was the most complex kind of thinker.

Plato’s Cardinal Virtues (as documented in The Republic)

For Plato, you needed these qualities to be a good leader.

  • Prudence: making decisions based on critical thought and doing the right thing at the right time, e.g. telling the truth according to context.
  • Temperance: understanding and controlling yourself; temperance defends prudence from inner threats.
  • Fortitude: self-confidence and confronting challenges; fortitude guards prudence against outer attack.
  • Justice: obeying the law, treating others fairly, being motivated by concern for others.

Aristotle’s Twelve Virtues (The Nicomachean Ethics)

Aristitle was one of Plato’s students, so he kind of built on Plato. I feel like Plato’s virtues are sufficient, though I’m getting the idea Aristotle didn’t think Plato had a well rounded character:

  • Courage: basically the same as Plato’s fortitude.
  • Temperance: the same as Plato’s temperance.
  • Liberality: aka charity. The space between keeping all your money and giving it all away.
  • Magnificence: the midpoint between austerity and extravagance.
  • Magnanimity: recognising your abilities without tipping into delusions of grandeur.
  • Patience: knowing when to let things go and when to crack the shits big time.
  • Truthfulness: walking the line between truthfulness and diplomacy.
  • Wittiness: somewhere between a good sense of humour and ouright mockery.
  • Friendliness: midpoint between too friendly and not friendly enough. You might like to know Ariostotle consiered friendship essential to a happy life.
  • Shame: between shyness and shameless.
  • Justice: the same as Plato’s temperance.
  • Modesty: you might deserve praise, but you shrug it off.

So just in case you wondered why I brough this up…

The 2022 Australian Federal Election

Her in Australia, we’re in the middle, of an election campaign. And I’m not really seeing any of these characteristics embodied in the candidates.

I’m not seeing a lot of prudence, temperance, fortitude or justice. Least of all in the election advertising.

I’m seeing a lot of delusions of grandeur, temper tantrums, lies and broken promises, mockery, broken promises, shamelessness and immodesty.

I recently read a piece by Suze Wilson and Toby Newstead, looking into the ethics of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (of Ukraine).

And I can’t say the current and potential Prime Ministers stack up that well. Heaven forbid either one of them has to deal with one tenth of what’s happening in Ukraine.

Though of course, we can’t really know what’s going on there.

Not that a lack of virtue is limited to politicians either. Look around today and you’ll see it in business, church, community and sporting leaders.

Systematic corruption and abuse, blind or incomptent leadership and the erosion of consumer/citizen protections.

The Discipline of Leadership

The thing about the virtues of leadership is that they aren’t a gift some people are just born with.

It takes disciple to develop virtues, and a certain amount of grit to stand head and shoulders above others refusing to descend to the lowest common denominator.

The development of leadership virtues is not restricted to established leaders.

Anyone can develop them.

All you have to do is try. (as if it was actually that simple).

Every single decision, on every single day, refusing to let yourself be or do anything that is outside the scope of the virtues.

In this way, you (we) will lead by example.

You will be an inspiration to others, giving them something to live up to instead of down to.

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