You.Life.Business.Growth.8.3: Virtuous Leadership

You can’t have business growth without personal growth. That’s because both come from finding unity between you, your life and your business. I previously developed a series of seven articles on this theme, based on the following model:

Breakthrough Growth

I’ve written previously about the modern ‘snake oil’ of personality tests and character strengths tests. In this article and the one following, I look at virtues and character strengths. I’ve written about these before and now look at how they line up to authentic leadership.

Virtues in Action

Supported by extensive research led by Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman, the Virtues in Action (VIA) Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues is a classification of positive traits in human beings. I’ve written about one of these strengths previously: kindness. There are 23 other strengths, falling under six virtue categories: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. Universally and morally valued, character strengths synopsize our abilities for helping others as well as ourselves. They produce positive effects. They have positive effects when expressed. Understanding your character strengths and further developing them is a foundation for living an authentic life.

Core Characteristics of Excellence

I’ll deal with the strengths over subsequent articles. First, it’s useful to position them in the context that they were developed and later classified. The six virtues under which the character strengths are organized are core characteristics valued by moral philosophers and religious thinkers. Peterson, Seligman and their research team found six broad categories that emerge consistently across history and cultures. They contend that

‘… they these are universal, perhaps grounded in biology through an evolutionary process that selected for these aspects of excellence as a means of solving the important tasks necessary for [the] survival of the species.’

They continue:

‘We speculate that all these virtues must be present at above threshold values for an individual to be of good character.’

The Virtues

The six virtues are:

  1. Wisdom and knowledge, comprising cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge.’

  2. Courage, comprising emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal.’

  3. Humanity, comprising interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others.’

  4. Justice, comprising civil strengths that underlie healthy community life.’

  5. Temperance, comprising strengths that protect against excess.’

  6. Transcendence, comprising strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning.’

Authentic Leaders are Virtuous

I’ve made this argument in a previous post about kindness (a component strength of humanity) at work, but it’s worth repeating. Understanding and embracing the virtues in workplaces does not somehow diminish authentic leaders. If anything, exemplifying the virtues magnifies leadership. Being virtuous isn’t, in an anachronistic management vernacular ‘soft.’ In truth, being virtuous, especially in a competitive industry or workplace, is challenging.

Noting the difficulty of virtuous leadership, when we look at phrases within the definitions of the virtues, we see familiar terms. ‘The acquisition and use of knowledge’ (learning), ’emotional strengths’ (emotional intelligence), ‘interpersonal strengths’ (skills), ‘civic strengths’ (teams), ‘protect[ion] against excess’ (ethics) and ‘connections’ [beyond yourself]. These are all frequently used as desired characteristics of leaders.

In the next article, I’ll look at the strengths associated with wisdom and knowledge and with courage.

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