The virtues of leadership

Leadership. We know it when we see it. We applaud it with flurries of commentary, social media posts and tweets. We bemoan the lack of it in an environment where leadership has been overtaken by politics, short term gain and lack of vision.

Perhaps it’s time to take a larger view.

I recently reviewed 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders by Professors Al Gini and Roland Green. They explore the moral basis for leadership (and followership) with good leadership characterised as being anchored in ethical behavior. At heart it is about motive: ethical leaders exercise leadership for the common good, not for their own greatness. Results are important; Gini and Green also argue that someone who demonstrates virtue and has the organisational capabilities required yet who fails to deliver is not a leader. And followers have responsibilities too. We get the leadership we allow!

The virtues Gini and Green identify are • Deep honesty • Moral courage • Moral vision • Compassion and care • Fairness • Intellectual excellence • Creative thinking • Aesthetic sensibility • Good timing and • Deep selflessness

It can sound idealistic and removed from reality but writing about the protests in Turkey and the government’s response , Thomas Friedman quoted advisor on governance Dov Seidman “ …moral authority is now so much more important than formal authority… Moral authority is something you have to continue to earn by how you behave, by how you build trust with people….every time you exercise moral authority, leading by example, treating people with respect, you strengthen it”.

It is easy to denigrate others for their lack of leadership. But if Gini and Green are right and “what was true thousands of years ago remains so today. The quality of life of a community whether it is a political unit or a business corporation depends on the character of all its members and on the virtue of its leaders”; whether a leader or a follower we need to identify key virtues to develop, practice and make habitual.

Al Gini and Ronald M Green, 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders: Leadership and Character, 2013, John Wiley & Sons

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