The most recent adventures with our not-so-tiny, not-so-perfect Mayor in Toronto has got me thinking about those ancient but elusive leadership qualities such as character and virtue. Over 5000 years ago Aristotle postulated the idea of practical wisdom as an essential leadership competency. He described practical wisdom as a leader who knows the right thing to do combined with the skill to do the right thing.
More than anything else, this seems to be one of dilemmas facing Mayor Ford. His decisions regarding TTC bus re-routing, football fund-raising and driving while reading all seem to lack at least half of the practical wisdom equation. Assuming the powers that be are successful in turfing the Mayor out of office, how do we avoid electing another "wisdom/virtue challenged" mayor?
In 1999 the most comprehensive research in the area of human virtues was conducted by a group of psychologists led by Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Chris Peterson. These researchers took three years to travel the world to identify the virtues that were valued in leadership in hundreds of countries globally. They then conducted a comprehensive review of civilizations over a 2500 year period to identify which virtues have stood the test of time, examining societies such as ancient Rome, Greece, as well as so-called values based organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.
They found that all societies globally and over time value 6 categories of virtues i.e. wisdom and knowledge, transcendence, courage, humanity, justice and temperance. They then identified how these virtues were expressed by a leader. In their words, they identified what these "values looked like in action". For example, a leader who has the character trait of temperance may demonstrate it through prudence and being careful about his/her choices or through self regulation and some form of discipline over his/her feelings and actions. Virtues that Mayor Ford could have used in any of his most recent front page fiascos.
The problem is how would we know how to spot these things at the ballot box when we vote for our next mayor?
Recently we conducted a fascinating project for one of our clients. They were interested in identifying what character traits distinguished their most exceptional leaders so they could further refine their recruitment, development and succession planning programs. They hypothesized that maybe the character traits of these extraordinary leaders were just as critical as their technical skills and academic pedigree. Each leader was interviewed and presented with the list of 24 virtues culled from the research. They were asked to venture their personal opinion on what they thought the "secret virtue ingredient" was for great leadership. Then each leader was asked to fill out a simple, on-line assessment known as the V.I.A. http://www.viacharacter.org/www/ ( i.e. the Values in Action Assessment) which allowed them to objectively identify their top 5 character traits.
Out of 24 possible virtues, only one was identified by all 20 of these exceptional leaders as well as found in their top 5 character traits according to their VIA profiles.
Check out the site where you will find all 24 character traits and take a guess at which one turned out to be the golden thread.
I bet you can't guess which one it is. I sure didn't.