Socrates and Plato, both taught that knowledge and virtue are one in 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, that maybe leaders don’t examine deeply enough the moral dimension of their actions or their decisions? That those leaders who exemplify this “gauge” are far and few between? Or that too much other stuff gets in the way, be it, CYA for your job, focusing solely on shareholders, etc., that 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 personally know what is “right?” According to what standard? 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. If they do or don’t, there is always a price to pay.
2. What are the leaders’ deeply ingrained habits? The only way to judge this is to observe the leader’s actions and their effect on the people around them. Habits become “second nature” in that the leader doesn’t even have to think about them, it is an automatic consideration and integral part of one’s decision making. The real issue is are they positive or negative?
3. 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 one has acquired, especially honesty and integrity.
b. What you represent: one’s ability to recognize moral issues and choose the “good.”
c. How you act when no one is watching: the degree of moral internalization.
These need to be an integral part of all values based leadership development programs. The question is, are they?