Virtue – Morality – Ethics and leadership

The three: virtue, morality and ethics are not new philosophical terms. To Aristotle the good for human beings must essentially involve the entire proper function of human life as a whole. And this must be an activity of the soul so that expresses genuine virtue or excellence.

Virtue, in short, is a desire for honourable things. Aristotle defined the virtue as habits of acting or dispositions to act in certain ways. In China the term Dé is probably the closest modern English equivalent that means ‘virtue’ in the sense of ‘personal character,’ ‘inner strength,’ ‘virtuosity,’ or ‘integrity.’ Chinese character Dé, written as 德, is composed of the radical彳followed by the number ‘fourteen’ or shí sì (十四) over ‘one’ or yī () ‘heart / mind’ or xīn (). The simple meaning is that one has to have a big heart for fourteen people.

DirectionRight-WrongEthics addresses questions on morality —concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.  Also Aristotle gave careful consideration to the aspects of human nature involved in acting and accepting moral responsibility. So, ethics is a system of moral principles hence practical rather than a theoretical approach. Ethics are the body of moral principles governing or distinctive of a particular culture or group.
And finally, moral is founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom. In other words, values describe what is important in a person’s life, while ethics and morals prescribe what is or not considered appropriate behaviour in living one’s life (Paul Chippendale). In short, one could say: “Virtue motivates, morals and ethics constrain.”
If so, why do we talk about morals and ethics in modern management approaches? And, why about virtue and values in leadership?

4 thoughts on “Virtue – Morality – Ethics and leadership

  1. But complying with laws is not enough, Aristotle spoke of pride as a crown of all virtues suggesting people need strive for excellence in all things both mind and body. It is not enough to simply be empathic or nice or even fair in treatment of people it is also required to demonstrate excellence of the warrior when the analogy might be the market place or the analytical ability of the geometrician when solving business problems. It is not one of these things but the proportional Golden mean among them all.


  2. Steven, great comment – thanks. I just want to point out that here the “law” is not mentioned or even reflected to. And yes leader is not a sponge – has to be stable, has to take decisions, has to take responsibility …


  3. Very nice post! thanks!

    Constructing an accurate ethical-leadership concept that is not over-extended by one’s ideological agenda ought to begin with defining leadership itself. That is to say, more attention should be paid to thinking about what leadership is. Beyond its attributes and any contextual artifacts, leadership itself must be identified as a distinct phenomenon before we can go on to highlight the ethical dimension that completes “ethical leadership.” Then what counts as the ethical dimension of leadership can be clipped back to that which is implied in the definition of leadership, which in turn is entailed in the essence of the phenomenon.See


  4. Dr. Worden thank you. I like your thesis about defining leadership which is the key point then the rest comes. But still I do have some hesitations about “ethics” as each group has his own (even criminal ones). You agree?


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