Cardinal Virtues and Leadership Series: Prudence

By Ron Pereira Published on October 27th, 2009


“In everything consider the consequences.”
– La Fontaine

A few articles ago I proposed the idea that successful leaders, in addition to being humble, should also practice the 4 Cardinal virtues.

I also committed to expand on this idea with more thoughts on each virtue.

As such, tonight we begin this journey with a discussion of the Cardinal virtue of prudence.

Prudence Defined

There are many definitions of prudence available such as the exercise of sound judgment in practical affairs.

But what does this really mean? More specifically, how does a leader of people practice this important virtue?

Prudence is Not Analysis Paralysis

First, I’d like to propose what prudence is not. Specifically, the prudent leader does not fall into what is often referred to as analysis paralysis.

In other words, while they do take the time to study the facts of the situation they are able, and more importantly, willing to make the tough call once they are confident in the way forward.

In fact, this aligns perfectly with what Jim Collins wrote about in his book Good to Great, as so called Level 5 Leaders almost always exhibit the will and courage to make the tough call after studying the facts.

Think Before You Leap

Now, to be clear, the prudent leader definitely thinks before he or she leaps.

In other words, to be prudent means to make sound decisions after weighing all of the options.

Some say that prudence is nothing more than the avoidance of reckless behavior.  Of course this may be oversimplifying things a bit but recklessness is most definitely an imprudent attribute so perhaps it’s the perfect description after all!

Long Term Perspective

Next, it’s my belief that the prudent leader always maintains a long term perspective when making decisions.

In other words, these leaders make decisions based on how to win the war rather than an individual battle.

As the co-owner of a business I can honestly tell you this is easier said (and written) than done. But, then again, no one said being a leader is easy.

Father of all Virtues

Lastly, St. Thomas Aquinas considered prudence to be the cause, measure and form of all virtues. This is to say without prudence a leader cannot possibly practice any of the other virtues.

For example, without prudence a leader cannot practice the virtue of temperance as it would be impossible to determine if they were being driven by a craving/desire or legitimate need.

What Does Prudence Mean to You?

This is what prudence means to me… but, as always, I am more interested in what you think.

Do you agree with my assessment of what prudence is? Additionally, in your opinion, how does a leader practice this important virtue?

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  1. Matt Hayes

    October 28, 2009 - 9:10 am

    Long time reader, first time commenter. Prudence is something so many leaders I have worked for or with lack. It seems like it’s all about them and their own agenda and not what is best for the company or their team. It’s sad to say, but so many leaders, at least in America, are very selfish.

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