Leadership is a life ideal, which recognizes, assimilates and propagates the truth about man.
What was the origin of an idea, to write a book treating leadership as a set of virtues of character? Weren’t there enough books on the market teaching readers how to become an effective leader?
It was after a few encounters with university students that I gave up my career as a lawyer and dedicated myself to studying and teaching leadership. I was lecturing on the history of European integration and spent hours helping young people enter the hearts and minds of the European Union’s Founding Fathers: Robert Schuman, Conrad Adenauer, Alice de Gasper, Jean Monet. My students were amazed by their greatness; I found their enthusiasm infectious and uplifting. Young people in their magnanimity brought me to leadership, and if someday I quit teaching business executives, I will never quit teaching young people: one needs to inhale before exhaling; likewise, I need to witness hope before speaking about it.
Leadership is intrinsically linked to virtue, because virtue, which comes from the Latin virtus, meaning “strength” or “power,” is a dynamic force that gives the leader the capacity to do what we expect from him. Here is what each of the six virtues under consideration enhances the ability to do:
The world needs leaders, not mere virtuous people. To teach Virtuous Leadership is not the same thing as to teach virtue. The aim of Virtuous Leadership is to foster in students a powerful desire to lead and show them the means to achieve this desire. In Virtuous Leadership we use the concept of virtue, because virtue is the essence and the foundation of leadership. However, the aim of Virtuous Leadership is to grow leaders, not people who are merely virtuous. People who teach virtue usually begin with the cardinal virtues of prudence, courage, self-control and justice. Because we do not teach virtue, but leadership, we begin with the essence of leadership, which are the virtues of magnanimity and humility. We always relate the virtues to the one who leads. We give some theory, but apply it to the leadership reality. Many schools have wonderful curricula to teach the virtues, but have no curricula to teach Virtuous Leadership. I am convinced that they will find in this book the instrument they need to ignite hearts to greatness and grow magnificient leaders who will, in the years to come, transform life, culture, and business.
In the book you used a lot of real life stories of people from different times and with different input to world’s history – from antiquity to the present day, from Aristotle through Joanna d’Arc, Thomas Moore, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jerome Lejeune, Ronald Raegan – to mention only a few – to a simple old lady from little city in Russia – to your opinion what all these people have in common?
Magnanimity and humility. Magnanimity and humility, which are principally virtues of the heart, are virtues specific to leaders; together they constitute the essence of leadership. Magnanimity is the habit of striving for great things. Leaders are magnanimous in their dreams, their visions and their sense of mission; also in their capacity to challenge themselves and those around them. Humility is the habit of serving others. It means pulling rather than pushing, teaching rather than ordering about, inspiring rather than berating. Thus, leadership is less about displays of power than the empowerment of others. To practice humility is, in short, to give others the capacity to realize their human potential. In this sense leaders are always teachers and fathers/mothers.
Magnanimity and humility go hand in hand in leadership. Magnanimity generates noble ambitions; humility channels these ambitions into serving others. Magnanimity and humility are not run-of-the-mill words. They are words rich in meaning, possessed of extraordinary emotional and existential power, words that go straight to the heart because they embody a life ideal—the ideal of greatness and service.
You often return to the motives of Solidarity movement and changes, that took place in our country in 1980ies – do you have any particular personal connection to Poland?
Yes, since I was a student at Law School in Paris. I wrote a dedication to the Polish edition:
“Virtuous Leadership in Polish! I have been dreaming of this day for a long time. In the 1980’s, when I was a Law student at Paris University, my eyes and my heart were irresistibly turned towards the admirable Polish people who was giving humanity a great lesson of magnanimity, hope and courage: a great lesson of leadership !
In summer 1984 working side by side with Polish workers in South Poland I left there a big part of my heart and acknowledged how much Bułat Okudżawa, the Georgian–Russian poet, was right, when he wrote:
Pospólny los Polacy, nas z dawien dawna zbratał
na dolę i niedolę na dobro i na zło…
Gdy trębacz nad Krakowem w hejnale stromym wzlata,
Having been invited to Poland to give a course on leadership, I had the chance to meet Lech Walesa at his office in Gdansk. The impressive thing about Walesa was his conviction that man’s fate depends on what he does today—or does not do. I was inspired by Walesa’s heroic magnanimity, a quality he shared with Solzhenitsyn and John Paul II. He taught me about the importance of believing in oneself, and of taking responsibility.
What would you define as a main message of the book?
Leadership is a life ideal, because the specific virtues it draws on—magnanimity and humility—are themselves life ideals. One can and should base one’s actions on prudence, courage, self-control and justice, but one can only base one’s existence on magnanimity and humility, on the ideal of greatness and the ideal of service—in other words, on the ideal of leadership.
Magnanimity is the thirst to lead a full and intense life; humility is the thirst to love and sacrifice for others. Consciously or unconsciously, the hearts of all human beings experience this thirst to live and to love. Magnanimity and humility are the sine qua non of personal fulfillment. Magnanimity and humility are inextricably linked. They constitute a unique ideal: the ideal of the dignity and greatness of man. Magnanimity makes us conscious of our dignity and greatness; humility makes us conscious of the dignity and greatness of others. Magnanimity (i.e., high-mindedness), and humility are the fruits of a true appreciation of the value of man; pusillanimity (i.e., small-mindedness), which prevents man from understanding himself, and pride, which prevents him from understanding others, stem from a false appreciation of man’s value. Leadership is a life ideal, which recognizes, assimilates and propagates the truth about man.
What practical advice would you give to a reader who would like to become a leader basing their leadership on virtues?
To read my book, reflect upon it, and put the advices I give into practice.
Łukasz Zając; cooperation Mateusz Łakomy. April 2011.
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