Cutting-Edge Leadership

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Do You Have the Strength to Lead?

What does it take to be an effective leader?

Of course I’m talking about inner strength, not physical ability (although physical health is important for leaders). What are some of the types of strength that leaders should possess to be effective?

Character Strengths

When I think about character, I draw on Aristotle’s cardinal virtues: Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance, and Justice. How do these virtues represent the character strengths of a leader?

Fortitude, or Courage, is an easy one. A leader needs courage to lead effectively -- the courage to stand by his or her convictions, the courage to take calculated risks, and the courage to do the right thing. Followers also need courage – the courage to stand up FOR and support their leaders when they are doing the right things, and the courage to stand up TO their leaders when they are wrong or doing the wrong thing.

Prudence, or Wisdom, is another cardinal virtue. The character strength associated with Prudence involves questioning the validity of your personal perspective, or your preferred way of doing things. Instead, the prudent leader listens to and considers others’ input. It takes strength to say, “I was wrong, and she is right,” when you are in a leadership position.

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Temperance is strength through self-control – the ability to control your passions. Too many leaders have gotten into trouble because of inability to control monetary or sexual “greed,” or emotions such as anger and hostility.

The virtue of Justice comes into play when a leader displays the strength to fight against systems or people who are unfair.

The Strength to Develop, Sacrifice, and Succeed

An effective leader also shows inner strength when he or she admits to shortcomings and seeks to rectify these and to develop more fully as a leader. Leaders also display inner strength when they sacrifice for the good of the team and the organization, and when they fight hard to overcome obstacles to success.

Virtues aren’t something we’re born with. The good news, however, is that virtues can be developed and strengthened. We have to work hard to be virtuous, whether we are in a leadership position or not.

Read more about leadership virtues here.

Follow me on twitter:!/ronriggio


Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.


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