10 Virtuous Leadership Principles

1. Authentic leadership must be based on an authentic anthropology, one that includes aretology, the science of virtue

Virtue is a habit of the mind, the will, and the heart, which allows us to achieve personal excellence. Leadership is intrinsically linked to virtue. First, because virtue creates trust – the sine qua non of leadership. Second, because virtue, which comes from the Latin “virtus”, meaning “strength” or “power,” is a dynamic force that enhances the leader’s capacity to act. Virtue allows the leader to do what the world expects of him.

2. Magnanimity and fraternal humility, which are principally virtues of the heart, constitute the essence of leadership.

Magnanimity is the habit of striving for great things. Leaders are magnanimous in their dreams, their visions, their sense of mission and their capacity to challenge themselves and those around them. Fraternal humility is the habit of serving others. Fraternal humility means pulling rather than pushing, teaching rather than ordering about, inspiring rather than berating. Thus, leadership is less about displays of power than the empowerment of others. To practice fraternal humility is to bring out the greatness in others, to give them the capacity to realize their human potential, to help them become leaders themselves. In this sense leaders are always educators, masters, coaches. The “followers” of a leader are the ones he serves. Magnanimity and fraternal humility are virtues specific to leaders; together they constitute the essence of leadership.

3. The virtues of prudence (practical wisdom), courage, self-mastery, and justice, which are mainly virtues of the mind and the will, constitute the foundations of leadership.

Prudence increases the leader’s ability to make right decisions; courage permits him to take risks and stay the course; self-mastery subordinates his emotions and passions to the spirit and directs their vital energy to the fulfillment of the mission at hand; justice impels him to give everyone his due. If these four virtues, which are called cardinal, do not constitute the essence of leadership, they constitute its bedrock without which leadership comes to naught.

4. Fundamental humility is the foundation of the foundation of leadership.

There is one virtue which is still more fundamental than the four cardinal virtues. This virtue is fundamental humility. Fundamental humility is not the habit of serving others (that is fraternal humility), but the habit of living in the truth about oneself. This aspect of humility which is self-knowledge constitutes the foundation of the foundation of leadership, whereas fraternal humility, together with magnanimity, constitutes the essence of leadership.

5. Leaders are trained, not born.

Virtue is a habit acquired through practice. Leadership is a question of character (predisposition developed through training) and not of temperament (native predisposition). Temperament can favor the growth of some virtues and hinder the development of others. But there comes a point where the leader imposes his character on his temperament so much so that his temperament ceases to dominate him. Temperament is not an obstacle to leadership, whereas lack of character—i.e., the moral energy that prevents us from being slaves to biology—most definitely is.

6. Everyone is called to leadership.

The leader does not lead by means of “potéstas” or the power inherent in his office or functions. He leads by means of “auctóritas”, which proceeds from character. Leadership is not about rank or position or being on top of the heap. Leadership is a way of being, which can be lived by everyone no matter his or her place in society or in any given organization.

7. Leaders of heart, will and mind.

To grow in virtue, we need to: 1) contemplate virtue in order to perceive its intrinsic beauty and ardently desire it (role of the heart); 2) discern in each situation the virtuous action which must be taken (role of the mind); 3) act virtuously (role of the will).

8. Leaders seek virtue in order to achieve human excellence and become effective as human beings.

Virtue means excellence in being (aretē, in Greek) and effectiveness in action (virtus, in Latin). Our personal effectiveness depends on our human excellence.

9. Leaders practice virtue ethics, rather than rules-based ethics.

Virtue ethics do not deny the validity of rules; they affirm that the essence of ethics is something other than rules. Rules must serve virtue. Virtue ethics underlie the leader’s creativity causing it to flourish, whereas rules-based ethics abolish creativity.

10. Leaders are neither skeptics nor cynics; they are realists.

The signs of maturity are self-confidence, coherence, psychological stability, joy, optimism, naturalness, freedom and responsibility, and interior peace. Leaders are neither skeptics nor cynics; they are realists. Realism is the capacity to entertain noble aspirations of the soul despite one’s personal weaknesses. Realists do not give in to weakness; they overcome it by the practice of virtues.