Socrates and Plato, both taught that knowledge and virtue are one in this these ways:
• If one knows what is right, then one will do what is right.
• Virtue is a kind of knowledge in that they are deeply ingrained habits that guide one’s action.
• The goal of the moral life is to cultivate the very best character one can.
If we use this as a “gauge” for leadership today, what would this tell us? I would suggest that by in large leaders don’t examine deeply enough the moral dimension of their actions or their decisions. Too much other stuff gets in the way, be it, CYA for your job, placating shareholders, wanting to be re-elected, morals are not on one’s radar or the belief that morals have nothing to do with business. All are dangerous and people can see the effect of lack of moral leadership.
1. Do leaders really know what is right? According to whom? For what reason? And for what result? Leaders need to take time to discern their own morals and how they bring them to the workplace and why.
2. What are the leaders’ deeply ingrained habits? How ingrained? Positive or negative? The only way to judge is to observe the leader’s actions and their effect on the people around them. These habits need become “second nature” so that the leader doesn’t even have to think about them, it is an automatic consideration and integral part of one’s decision making.
3. If the goal of the moral life is to cultivate character, what are the keys to character development? It seems to me that character is built on three concepts:
a. Who you are: the virtues you have acquired, especially honesty and integrity.
b. What you represent: your ability to recognize moral issues and choose the “good.”
c. How you act when no one is watching: the degree of moral internalization.
I am reminded of an example in my own parenting that was truly a “test”
of my own character and gave me the insights I listed above.
When my son has a freshman in high school, one day he was late coming home, so I periodically would look out the window to see if I could see him walking down the street. Finally I saw him coming, but he was ripping the plastic cover of what looked like a CD and then threw it down the sewer and put the Cd in his backpack and proceeded to walk home.
When he got in the house, I asked what it was he tossed down the sewer? He was stunned and gave some ridiculous answer. Then I asked him to empty his backpack and sure enough there was a brand new CD, he had just stolen from Walmart. I, immediately, put him in the car, drove to Walmart, asked to see the manager and explained what had just happened in the last 45 minutes. The manager took me aside and asked me what I would like to happen. I told him in front of my son, to do with him what you do with anyone who is caught shoplifting. The manager, somewhat stunned my unwavering support of his position and that a parent would actually take the time to bring a child to justice,
lectured my son for awhile, and then told him that has was not going to call the police this time, and that my son has banned from the Walmart for the next year.
He told my son that all employees would be notified as to who he is, and what he had done and if my son showed up at the Walmart, the police would be called and charges made.
Needless to say, my son was embarrassed, angry at me for making him go to the Walmart to “fess up” and it put a strain on our relationship for some time to come. But as a parent, the realities of what is right and wrong, goes to very being of modeling character. If my son had any doubt as to what I stood for, he had no doubt now and that I was more than willing to immediately act on such behavior.
I can only hope that that experience has resonated in his life by the way he behaves and now raises his own son.