What Is Key to Virtuous Leadership?

BOOK REVIEW: From Temperament to Character: On Becoming a Virtuous Leader provides solid keys to achieve moral excellence.

(photo: Cropped book cover)

From Temperament to Character: On Becoming a Virtuous Leader

By Alexandre Dianine Havard

Scepter, 2018

144 pages, $14.95

To order: Amazon.com


In a world marked by an increasing loss of moral landmarks to the benefit of a mediocre relativism, the very concept of leadership has become hackneyed.

As this phenomenon is gaining ground within Western societies, it is vital to promote new generations of leaders by rooting the notion of leadership in a healthy and sound anthropology. It is the argument behind Alexandre Dianine-Havard’s book From Temperament to Character: On Becoming a Virtuous Leader.

A former lawyer practicing in France and Finland, Havard has been dedicating the past two decades to spreading the teachings of classic virtues as the basis of true leadership. He quickly made his theories known through the Virtuous Leadership Institutes (HVLI) he founded on five continents, as well as through his regular international conferences and his books, which have been translated in 20 languages.

As a Catholic and grandson of Russian and Georgian citizens who fled their communist regimes to settle in Paris, he has made it a mission of life to help people be aware of their intrinsic dignity and develop the greatness for which they were created.

“I saw greatness in my parents, grandparents, ancestors and mentors, but at the same time, I saw waves of small-heartedness breaking over the world,” he told the Register. “I noted the rise of new kinds of creatures in our midst like those in Huxley’s Brave New World: creatures without a past, without a homeland, without family and without God. I found it very preoccupying, and I decided to act.”

According to him, leadership is about growing through making others thrive. It is not the prerogative of an elite, but the “vocation of the multitude,” as it is the culmination of individuals’ moral excellence.

To this extent, it is to be separated from mere management, which focuses on advancing things, while authentic leadership focuses on advancing and empowering human beings. Thus such leadership arising from moral excellence is inextricably linked to the practice of virtue.

“Coming from the Latin virtus — meaning ‘strength’ or ‘power’ — virtue is a dynamic force that enhances the leader’s capacity to act and do what people expect of him,” Havard said.


Between Greek Philosophy and Christian Anthropology

Relying on Hippocrates’ four-temperament theory and Aristotle’s teachings on formation of character, Havard argues that the innate part of human personality can be tamed and channeled thanks to the continuing practice of virtues. Prudence, courage, self-mastery, justice, magnanimity and humility are in his eyes the most important virtues for a leader.

While his first book, Virtuous Leadership: An Agenda for Personal Excellence (2007), offered a theoretical framework to help people, at their respective levels, grow and thrive within their professional lives, From Temperament to Character provides practical tools for the implementation of such teachings, starting with self-knowledge. A right understanding of one’s personality is an essential requirement to the development of one’s leadership.

Havard’s approach — inspired by Greek philosophy and enriched by Christian theology — postulates that temperament is a basic, innate and often hereditary component of human’s personality, which determines the way one reacts when faced with different situations.

One may be predominantly choleric (action-oriented), melancholic (idea-oriented), sanguine (people-oriented) or phlegmatic (peace-oriented); an online temperament test is available on HVLI’s website. It is possible to have a secondary temperament, even though one of the two temperaments tends to gain ascendancy eventually.

Character, on the other hand, is an acquired predisposition, something that each individual will build over time, on the foundation of his own temperament. Working on one’s character — through virtue — will enable one to overcome the inherent weaknesses to one’s temperament.

Thus, From Temperament to Character is a manual designed to help readers determine their innate temperament in order to better understand the virtuous habits they should pursue, in order to reach the moral excellence to which they are called as creatures of God.

The challenges and talents specific to each temperament are presented in separate chapters with practical advices on the ways to deal with them. Concrete examples of famous characters throughout history can also be a source of inspiration for those willing to perfect their character.


Freedom and Responsibility

The theory appears to be a third way between determinism, which postulates that our actions are all connected and determined by biological or external factors, and voluntarism, which denies the existence of any innate dimension in the human person, and thus the existence of temperament.

Havard, without denying the weight of determining biological factors, believes in the strength of free will, a pillar of Christian anthropology. Indeed, he reckons that the fact that temperament is something inherited cannot justify bad actions or behaviors and is no excuse to limit our initiatives.

In the book’s foreword, Cameron Thompson, a specialist in human and organizational psychology who is the president of the Virtuous Leadership Institute in North America, points out that popular personality tests employed in management circles, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Kiersey Temperament Sorter (KTS), have been shown to have the effect of removing all sense of responsibility in human beings. They are therefore tempted by fatalism, believing free will doesn’t exist, that they cannot change.

“The Virtuous Leadership approach to the classical temperaments affirms the legitimate diversity of our physiological and psychological makeup and proposes that temperament, rightly understood, undergirds the efforts of all persons to flourish and achieve excellence,” he wrote. “It is these habits of excellence, which, together, allow us to flourish and lead good, fruitful lives.”


Magnanimity, Leaders’ First Virtue

As modern Western societies lost their sense of the divine, increasing numbers of individuals have stopped seeing themselves as the culmination of God’s creation and instead believe they are the center of the universe. Thus, by losing the sense of transcendence, they lost the sense of belonging to a reality that goes beyond them and have started doubting their own value and inherent dignity. Consumerism and relativism, consequences of this loss of transcendence, seem to have produced the fainthearted generations that provoked Havard to develop his theories, specifically in order to “ignite hearts for greatness.”

This contemporary crisis is therefore a crisis of greatness, which can only be addressed by the practice of magnanimity, a virtue widely forgotten and neglected nowadays.

First theorized by Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics (IV, 3), it refers to the greatness of soul. It is what encourages one to act selflessly for noble proposes, to achieve an ideal, being fully aware of one’s own talents and capacities. The notion was then further developed in Catholic theology, especially by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae (129), which described it as a special virtue, leading Christian societies to see it as one of the key virtues of kings.

“I have been teaching magnanimity for 10 years, and I have seen people change fundamentally through their encounter with such virtue, while some others are terrorized by this idea. It leaves no one indifferent,” Havard told the Register.

Havard said, “This habit of striving for great things is an ideal rooted in trust in man and his inherent greatness. It is the virtue of action, the supreme form of human hope.”

That’s why he sees in magnanimity the first specific virtue of leaders.

“Leaders are magnanimous in their dreams,” he said, their visions and their sense of mission, as well as in their capacity to challenge themselves and those around them.”

In this sense, virtuous leaders’ magnanimity goes hand in hand with humility, as “magnanimity without humility is pride and humility without magnanimity is pusillanimity,” as he comments in From Temperament to Character. Magnanimity makes one aware of one’s talents, whereas humility makes one aware that talents are God-given gifts. Together, these virtues shape the essence of leadership.


Family, the First Place of Learning Virtues

The defense of the institution of family is another core topic of Havard’s works on virtuous leadership and which is also echoed in From Temperament to Character. Indeed, family is in his view the best environment for learning the essential virtues of leadership.

Beside their parents, siblings or grandparents, Havard says children acquire the sense of service and solidarity that characterizes humility. On the other hand, as the author points out, “leaders are always teachers and fathers/mothers,” as the practice of humility consists in giving others “the capacity to realize their human potential.”

“Someone who did not in his childhood experience personal dignity and solidarity with others will hardly understand the meaning of such notions as ‘greatness’ and ‘service’” he writes.

“The disappearance of the institution of the family leads to the disappearance of virtuous leadership because it is within family that the child becomes aware of his own dignity, which is the key element of the virtue of magnanimity,” Havard told the Register. “It is inside this basic unit of society and not outside that the child understands he is loved and that he is valuable.”

In contrast to socialism and individualism that can produce petty beings, and are thus antithetical to leadership, he said, “Family is a place of growth for every virtue, especially the leader’s specific virtues.”  

Solène Tadié is the Registers Rome-based Europe correspondent.