What Most Leaders Miss About the Value of Virtue

22 February, 2021

In this article for Notre Dame Deloitte Center for Ethical Leadership Brett Beasley talks about new research which suggests that to achieve the highest levels of performance, leaders need both character and competence.

Machiavelli, as is discussed in some of our programs, argued that a leader “who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him.” His view was that leaders should certainly try to look like virtuous people of character, but be prepared act in less than virtuous ways when it was advantageous. Beasley points out that while “Machiavelli has many adherents today… most of whom aren’t evil geniuses, ruthless dictators, or criminal masterminds. These everyday Machiavellians are our friends, bosses, and coworkers. They don’t believe leaders should be evil. They just think that when it comes to effective leadership, character doesn’t count.”

It turns out that they’re wrong, which is a good thing. Psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman know this, because they have found a way to count character. After a thorough analysis of lists of virtues in cultures around the world they formulated a comprehensive and measurable set of character strengths. Another study found that leaders’ higher character strength ratings correlated with higher performance ratings. “While “character may be grounded in integrity,” additional studies … identified other virtues that help put character into action. A 2014 study affirmed the value of integrity both for a leader’s performance and image and also showed that courage was necessary in order for integrity to have an impact.”

All of which is great, but how do you put it into practice? Beasley says the answer is to recruit and promote ethical people, target character as you develop leaders and grow character in ‘crucible moments’. Read the full article for more information and study links.

Notre Dame Deloitte Center for Ethical Leadership, 2021. Read the full article here.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership’s programs include the 2 day Executive Ethics, 6 day Executive Colloquium and year-long Vincent Fairfax Fellowship. We also deliver online and tailored corporate programs. Find the right program for you. They are all held under the Chatham House Rule to encourage genuine and open debate, and allow participants to candidly discuss sometimes sensitive issues in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public, and contribute to a broader conversation. The alumni program offers ongoing leadership development support and a lifelong connection with Cranlana.