Three Virtues All Leaders Possess

Virtue means to pursue a higher standard. Authentic leadership is grounded in standards and measured by the success in approaching them..

by Dave McKenna, Editor of SaaS Executive

September 30, 2017

It may sound strange to our modern and tolerant ear to put forward anything as particular and old fashioned as “virtue” as a leadership quality. But in the absence of virtue, leaders are nothing more than tyrants; self-serving and exploiting.

So I put forward that leadership itself is not a virtue. To be in command is not an end in itself (and for those for whom it is, they are not worthy of authority). Leadership and authority are servants to a purpose and a greater good, or it is nothing but naked power.

Of the leader’s I’ve known, they all had these three virtues:

  1. Share a Positive Vision

Visions multiply when they are sheared. They increase the more they attract others to the effort.  Consider Phillipe Petit, who walked on a tight rope between the World Trade Center Towers in 1974. This inspired act was wonderfully recounted in the 2015 film The Walk. Watch the trailer here

Phillipe did not come up with every detail of his winning plan himself. He could not have. But Phillipe inspired and recruited others to his side who wanted to see his vision fulfilled. And in that, the vision became theirs as well.

It’s your vision, but doesn’t have to be all your plan. Find creative and provocative ways to get people thinking about the possibilities. Once your team begins to see the potential, they will begin to contribute their own creativity and insight. It becomes something they will invest themselves into and contribute the human capital the endeavor needs for success.

  1. Demonstrate Selflessness

Self-sacrifice is the single most indispensable aspect of genuine leadership. Successful managers are sometimes self-serving. But authentic leaders never are. Authentic leaders, even ones who are leading others astray, are always seen to be seeking a greater good.  A genuine leader is willing to sacrifice themselves for that greater good.

The most compelling stories of courage and leadership always entail a personal sacrifice. The greater the sacrifice the more profound the example. It can be a simple as an act of humility, which is the sacrifice of one’s pride or privilege. To forego an advantage and promote the interest of another is self-sacrifice. It is counter cultural in our competitive and self-centered culture. But the greatest power is found in self-sacrifice, not in self-seeking.

The most extreme examples of self-sacrifice is the willingness to give one’s life for another. Like the story of Army Sgt 1st Class Alwyn Cashe in Samarra, Iraq in October 2005. SFC Cashe  repeatedly entered a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle to rescue six soldiers from the wreckage after it was struck by an improvised explosive device.

His own uniform caught fire and the enemy continued its attack with rifle fire, but SFC Chase went back again and again into the inferno to rescue the wounded.  Chase later died of the second and third degree burns he sustained in the rescue.

  1. Exhibit Fortitude

No great thing is ever accomplished without confronting obstacles. A leader who projects confidence and tenacity will reassure the team and challenge the members to call on their own inner resources to meet the challenge.

One legendary example of fortitude in business is Ross Perot and the founding of EDS. A top sales executive at IBM, Perot had the idea of selling computing service contract apart from the hardware.

Presidential candidate Ross Perot gestures during the Presidential debate October 19th at Michigan State University. – RTXF2UX

He was ignored by the conservative corporate management, so he founded EDS in 1962. Perot recalls being rejected by the first seventy-seven prospects he approached with the idea. EDS went public six years later, with shares shooting up to $160 within days of the IPO. General Motors purchased EDS in 1984 for $2.4 billion.

When a leader is able to offer a positive vision, demonstrate self sacrifice in the pursuit of the greater good, and exhibit fortitude in the face of adversity, the leader is able to evoke the deeper human motivations of will, intellect, and desire.

Who can know what the next two years will bring in terms of technology, let alone the next two millennia. But you can be certain that as long as there are human beings, their inner powers and will, intelligence, and desire will govern everything they do.