I have read practically every leadership book on the market. Many of them teach various techniques while others seem more centered on self-improvement. When it comes to leadership, how much weight do you give to methods vs. character development?
This is a great question and it will resurface until the end of time. Machiavelli’s The Prince, written centuries ago, was a document about gaining and maintaining power primarily by employing techniques, tactics and stratagems. Today, titles with the same basic message fly off the shelves of bookstores in the business and self-help sections.
One thing is for sure: Any leader who gains power based on technique alone, paying little or no attention to character concerns, is doomed to failure. Paranoia, insecurity and other psychological problems will gradually find a place in his mind. At best he can “rule” until the time of his death — but happiness and peace will never accompany him.
Leadership is about character more than anything else because a leader with character will easily find the right kinds of techniques and will use them for the good of all. The character of a leader hinges (or fails to) on the cardinal virtues. (That’s a deliberate way of putting it: The word cardinal comes from the Latin word cardo, which means hinge.)
The four cardinal virtues — prudence, fortitude, justice and temperance — are exactly what leaders need to practice on a daily basis. They allow a leader to become a person of greatness. On the other hand, leaders who lack these virtues will never be great no matter how many techniques they master.
Taken to the extreme, leaders who lack prudence will betray the people closest to them. This, in time, will bring about a cutthroat culture (“Every man for himself!”) that will paralyze the organization.
Leaders lacking fortitude will often compensate by using too much aggression. Ironically, cowards in power usually don’t run away. They keep people on edge as a way of masking their own fears.
Leaders lacking justice will drive the righteous, those with a strong sense of morality and ethics, right out the door.
But consider that it is primarily the lack of temperance that so often acts as the last nail in the coffin of a would-be leader.
We only have to pick up the paper and see the news about former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to see how destructive a lack of self-control can be. He used all the techniques he knew in order to get people to believe he was a man of character, but the façade collapsed. Just so, a lack of temperance causes leaders to self-destruct from the inside out.
A leader who has character can excel in any environment. Even if he does not seem to be “winning” to outward appearances, he will be growing on the inside. He will take note of his good and bad choices and, in humility, he will learn from them. He will be magnanimous by setting his sights on becoming great in the eyes of God — not man.
“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
We can trust leaders with character because they are committed more to the mission than they are to their self-interests.
Keep reading your leadership books but be sure to include the Bible, the Catechism and the lives of the saints. That is where you will find leadership models after God’s own heart.
In 2007, Leadership Excellence magazine named Dave Durand one of the Top 100 Minds on Personal Development. He’s online at DaveDurand.com.