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The Ten Virtues of Outstanding Leaders

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The Ten Virtues of Outstanding Leaders

Leadership and character are inseparable. In the Ten Virtues of Outstanding Leaders, philosophers Al Gini and Ronald Green, ask what is good leadership? They insist "that ethics, character, and virtue are essential to real leadership" and anything else is misleadership.

They define leadership as:

Leadership is not just a set of learned skills, a series of outcomes, a career, a profession, or a title. Leadership, at its core, is about character: specifically, a character attuned to its ethical responsibilities to others. The kind of character that, in regard to others, always tries to do the right thing, for the right reason, on purpose.

They suggest ten virtues or traits of character and as such they describe not just a leader's behavior but a clear sense of the way a leader thinks; the beliefs and motivations behind their actions. They note that these virtues are fragmentary in that they can exist apart from one another and rarely does any leader possess all of them.

1. Deep Honesty. Not just truth-telling but a bias for the truth. "It describes the leader's basic commitment to the truth, and a sense of shame or anger when deceitfulness replaces truth-telling." (James Burke, Johnson & Johnson)

2. Moral Courage. "Here one confronts a multitude of things that terrify people: fear of criticism or embarrassment; fear of poverty or job loss; fear of losing friends or being ostracized—even fear of being seen to be in the wrong. Overcoming self-doubt can be an expression of courage." Courageous leaders hold fast to their values and purpose even when there is no certainty that they will prevail. Courage is of particular importance because unlike the virtue of honesty, is not an aim in itself but it supports other moral claims. As such, philosopher Robert Merrihew Adams describes courage as a "structural virtue." (Abraham Lincoln and Rosa Parks)

3. Moral Vision. Great leaders not only "exhibit moral courage, they are also able to understand the meaning of the values they fight for and the importance of ethics in both human life and in the life of organizations and communities." They understand the consequences of ethical values and are able to share it with others. (Winston Churchill)

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