Joan of Arc (1412-1431)

“Help yourself and God will help you.” 

Joan of Arc was an outstanding political leader. She practiced at the highest level the 2 specific leadership virtues which are magnanimity and humility, the virtues of greatness and service.

Joan of Arc who was a simple peasant became the supreme commander of French military forces at the age of seventeen. Her mission was to assure the coronation of the crown prince, and, while she was at it, expel the English from France.

Joan of Arc was a woman of action. In the words of G. K. Chesterton, “Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt (…). Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other.”

Joan of Arc was not only a woman of action. She was also a contemplative soul. In fact, one of the most original aspects of her personality is the bond between mystical experience and political mission. Joan was a doer, but she never did things just for the sake of doing them; her doing was always an extension of her being, the outgrowth of her contemplation of her exalted vocation. She possessed a deep sense of personal dignity which is proper to leaders. Leadership begins with an exalted vision of self. Only then does it acquire a vision of what it seeks to achieve.

Joan of Arc was a great leader, not because she drove out the English from French soil. She was a great leader because she brought out the greatness in her soldiers, changed the hearts of millions of her countrymen, engendered the spiritual revival of a whole country, that had sunk into darkness. Joan was a great teacher, a wonderful educator. And this is in the end of the day what leadership is about: to achieve greatness by bringing out the greatness in others.

Joan of Arc was not only magnanimous, humble and courageous. She possessed the virtue of practical wisdom at the highest level. Although she was illiterate, the wisdom and simplicity of her rebuttals to the unjust accusations leveled against her remain astonishing 500 years later. When the tribunal accused her of having disobeyed her parents by leaving home and embarking on her mission without their consent, Joan gave a magnificent lesson in basic theology: “Were I to have one hundred fathers and one hundred mothers, and were I the daughter of a King, I would have gone because God commanded it.” Tradition applies to Joan of Arc these words of the Book of Wisdom: “Through Wisdom I shall have glory among the multitudes and honor in the presence of the elders, though I am young. I shall be found keen in judgment, and in the sight of rulers I shall be admired. When I am silent they will wait for me, and when I speak they will give heed; and when I speak at greater length they will put their hands on their mouths.”

Joan of Arc was a feminine leader. When she was not on a military campaign, she spent her time with women doing the things that women did, such as sewing and spinning. She called herself “Joan, the Maid”, because she wanted to emphasize that she was a woman. She never used her sword. She was not the heroine of a modern action movie, in the sense that she never killed anyone. Joan was not tough, but great.

Leadership is about greatness, not toughness. In his book “The Birth of Britain” Winston Churchill says that “Joan of Arc was a being so uplifted from the ordinary run of mankind that she finds no equal in a thousand years.”