Cardinal Virtues and Leadership

By Ron Pereira Updated on October 15th, 2009

4 cardinal virtuesOur most recent article, Level 5 Leadership, created quite the discussion in the comments section (18 comments as I write this).

As is normally the case, I learned a lot from all the comments. I agreed with some of them and disagreed with others… but one question that seemed to rise to the top was whether humility is something that can be developed?

My initial, knee jerk reaction, was of course it can be developed and I set off to write how this is the case.


Then I decided to take a step back and really ponder the question. And during this reflection I was reminded of the central part of my life – my faith.

Specifically, when thinking about humility my thoughts immediately went to the virtue of temperance. Then I was reminded of the other 3 cardinal virtues – prudence, justice, and courage.

The Light Goes Off

And then it hit me. While humility is of course an important characteristic of a leader… it, in isolation, doesn’t come close to equaling the power of the 4 cardinal virtues.

With this said, I’ve decided to dive into each of the 4 cardinal virtues over the next few articles discussing how each of them plays a role in the life of an excellent leader no matter if they are a person or faith or not.

But before we jump into each virtue I’d like to offer a few words regarding the origins of these virtues.

Cardinal Virtues Background

As it turns out, Plato is credited with initially deriving these virtues while theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine of Hippo went on to expand and adapt them to the ways of faith.

Finally, in case you wondered, the word cardinal is derived from the Latin word cardo, which means hinge.

As such, the cardinal virtues are often referred to as the hinges to which the doors of morality, faith, and I personally believe leadership swing.

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So, please stay tuned to hear my reasoning! And if you have any thoughts on the matter I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.

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  1. Rob

    November 29, 2009 - 7:43 am

    Hello Ron

    I really like these posts which trying to apply philosophical principles to lean ideas. However, I find that a major problem with virtue theory is that its hard to establish exactly which patterns of behaviour are to count as virtues. The danger is that virtue theorists simply redefine their own beliefs and preferred ways of, in this case, leadership, as virtues. Virtue theory can become an intellectual smokescreen which offers little scope for change based on the culture and morality of societies, or at a more local level, organisations. A book relating to the “personal development” perspective of ethical thinking which you should read (if you’ve not already) is, Mary Warnocks “An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Ethics”. In it she looks at the world and its moral choices primarily from the standpoint of the individual as opposed to approaches largely based on utilitarianism or questions of rights and obligations.

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