Unit 3: Characteristics of an Ethical or Virtuous Leader
Now, let's align the qualities we have explored in this course, Plato and Aristotle's classical virtues and different perspectives on leadership, into a more current framework for what it means to be a "good" or "virtuous" leader. Most successful leaders possess certain virtues. We will explore nine traits that some might describe as essential qualities for good leadership: honesty, moral courage and vision, compassion, fairness, intellectual excellence and willingness to listen to others, creative thinking, aesthetic sensitivity, good timing, and selflessness.
While these leadership elements frequently overlap with the classical ideals of virtuous leadership we discussed above, the correlation is not always direct or complete. In this unit, we will create links of each of these virtues with the most appropriate
classical virtue described by Plato and Aristotle.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 3 hours.
An honest and virtuous leader will not lie, defraud, or cheat others. They restrain themselves from misleading others or withholding the truth from those who should know it. They dismiss any attempts to lead by deception and refuse to act or speak in ways that destroy the personal trust (ethos) they receive from others.
We can link our concept of honesty most closely with the classical ideals of justice, moderation, and courage.
3.2: Moral Courage and Moral Vision
Moral courage refers to a virtuous leader's decision to act in ways they believe to be morally right or correct, despite facing impossible odds and personal risk. As we will learn, their action could result in popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, and personal loss.
We can link the concepts of moral courage and moral vision most closely with the classical ideals of justice and courage.
A virtuous leader who is compassionate and caring can identify with the struggles, pains, and troubles of others. They also demonstrate their willingness to act in ways that mitigate and address these areas of distress. Virtuous leaders lead with compassion to promote Aristotle's ideal of human flourishing (eudaimonia) for those who are part of their sphere of leadership.
We can link our concept of compassion most closely with the classical ideals of justice, moderation, and human flourishing (eudaimonia).
We expect virtuous business and political leaders to be fair – they should treat others justly and impartially without discrimination or undue favoritism. Our modern concept of fairness closely aligns with the classical philosophical ideals Plato and Aristotle described when they discussed justice.
We can link our concept of fairness most closely with the classical ideals of justice, moderation, and human flourishing (eudaimonia).
3.5: Intellectual Excellence and Willingness to Listen to Others
Good and virtuous leaders are open-minded, intellectually curious, and want to learn. They are willing and able to listen to others. They value their co-workers and associates' opinions and are concerned about their happiness. They are not so proud and arrogant that they dismiss or disregard others' ideas and values, or favor their own expertise or opinions exclusively.
From a practical standpoint, it makes sense for wise leaders to listen to the opinions of those around them. Considering alternative ideas and perspectives helps us recognize the biases and stereotypes that may cloud our judgment or lead us to make faulty conclusions and decisions. Plato and Aristotle believed pride poses a significant danger to ourselves and those around us. Virtuous leaders should show humility.
We can link our concept of fairness most closely with the classical ideals of justice, wisdom, and moderation.
3.6: Creative Thinking
Virtuous leaders use their skill (techne), and practical wisdom (phronesis) to promote creative problem-solving. They not only offer wise solutions, but invite others to solve problems with creative solutions to and foster human flourishing (eudaimonia). Creative thinking aligns with our earlier discussion of wisdom.
We can link our concept of creative thinking most closely with the classical ideals of skill (techne), practical wisdom (phronesis), and human flourishing (eudaimonia).
3.7: Aesthetic Sensitivity
Aristotle argued that good leaders also have aesthetic sensitivity, or the ability to complete their tasks with beauty and balance. Remember Aristotle's discussion of virtue and the golden mean. Virtuous leaders not only care about what they create, but they also have a vision of excellence within their field of leadership, with an eye toward functionality, completeness, and perfection. They think about the process in addition to the goal or product. They recognize and work to promote balance, collaboration, and work together as a team toward a common goal.
We can link our concept of aesthetic sensitivity most closely with the classical ideals of skill (techne), practical wisdom (phronesis), and human flourishing (eudaimonia).
3.8: Good Timing
A good or polished leader knows when to act after carefully considering their options and when to take advantage of opportunities that come along. Plato and Aristotle considered this leadership ability to be an element of a leader's skill (techne) or technical craft, which is part of the practical side of wisdom. This quality describes a leader's ability to understand what is needed and the appropriate time to act to achieve their goals.
We can link our concept of good timing most closely with the classical ideals of skill (techne) and practical wisdom (phronesis).
Virtuous leaders are selfless and value the wellbeing of everyone, or human flourishing (eudaimonia). Virtuous leaders are willing to take less, so others have enough or more. They often help others be kind or good but expect to receive nothing in return. These virtuous leaders demonstrate the classical virtues of self-control and moral courage because they seek the best for others above themselves.
We can link our concept of selflessness most closely with the classical ideals of courage, moderation, and human flourishing (eudaimonia).