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Four Qualities Leaders Need for Success

Four qualities that the most successful leaders possess

It's hard to imagine, but the four qualities that leaders need in order to be successful were first discussed more than 2,000 years ago. Aristotle wrote of the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice. Develop these, and you will be a good and successful leader.

Prudence. Also known as wisdom, is being able to see different perspectives and gathering evidence before making decisions or moving ahead. Learn to be objective and reflective before choosing a course of action.

How is it developed? Learn to consult with knowledgeable others. Avoid knee-jerk responses and decisions. Reflect on the reasons for your success, but especially learn from your mistakes. Mentors can be particularly helpful in developing this virtue.

Temperance. Learning to control emotions (and appetites) is the virtue of temperance. It is lack of temperance that gets a lot of leaders into trouble with excessive greed, sexual appetites, lack of self-control, etc. Temperance helps leaders admit when they have made mistakes and causes them to work to correct them. Temperate leaders have a humility that distinguishes the very best leaders.

How is it developed? A friend who is a very successful leader talks about the "self-discipline" needed to lead. Learning to control your emotions is one obvious way to develop temperance.

Fortitude. The best leaders are courageous and persistent. They have a desire to succeed, but it is prudence and temperance that helps them to understand the paths to success and to not allow their emotions and passions to get the better of them. [A leader has to develop all of the cardinal virtues - they work together].

How is it developed? Leaders need to overcome their fears. You can't be courageous and worry about failure. If you have been prudent in your decision making, you are most likely on the right course, but realize that that does not mean you will always succeed. Take a look at the greatest leaders: They all failed at one time or another, but they had the fortitude to keep going, and they eventually succeeded (e.g., Lincoln lost many more elections than he won).

Justice. This virtue is embodied in the Golden Rule - treat others fairly. Successful leaders not only succeed for themselves, but bring others along with them. The very best leaders profit, but their followers, and society as a whole also benefit.

Are you interested in these leadership virtues? We recently published our research, which includes a scale to assess these virtues in leaders:

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