Eight Leadership Virtues to Create a Culture that Attracts (and Keeps) the Best Talent
01 / 15 / 18

Eight Leadership Virtues to Create a Culture that Attracts (and Keeps) the Best Talent


Whether you lead a for-profit company or a non-profit, you’re very concerned with attracting and retaining exceptional individuals in your organization. So, how do you do it?

Your company’s compensation and benefits plan is an important way to align your key talent with your vision. Over the years, I’ve seen this work. The more effectively an organization designs its compensation and benefits plans, the more capable that organization is to attract and retain gifted employees who in turn build the overall value of the company.

But compensation isn’t the only tractor beam in your arsenal to draw and keep gifted people. Culture and a positive environment, although far less tangible, can be just as attractive. Values are not always measurable or detectable either, but if anything reveals a company’s values, it is its culture.

And although it takes time and effort to identify the values that drive an organization, the process is worth the effort. If an organization does not have clearly articulated values thoroughly engrained in its culture, the compensation and benefit plans will not be nearly as effective. You may attract good people, but you won’t keep them.

As a leader in your organization, you have already developed your own unique leadership style. You may have reached your position of leadership for a variety of reasons: superior intellect, the ability to articulate a vision, charisma, or great people skills.

Yet, the true test of leadership is not only the success of the organization while you are there, but what happens to the organization once you leave -- your legacy.

That’s why we coined the term “Legacy Virtues.” These virtues are immutable tenets that build leadership deep within the organization and enable people to thrive and prosper even after the leader who practices them is gone. As you investigate these virtues, you may discover that they are already a big part of your leadership philosophy. On the other hand, you may discover qualities that have not been on your radar.

Undermining Your Legacy

We have all observed examples of strong leadership: Jack Welch with General Electric, Steve Jobs with Apple, as well as older turn-of-the-century industrialists like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

But strong leadership does not necessarily mean good leadership. Examples of dishonest leadership are more obvious in the infamous stories of Enron, Tyco, HealthSouth, and the Madoff scandal. The leaders of these organizations found themselves on the path toward corruption but ignored the warning signs.

While I am convinced that these extreme examples of dishonesty represent a very small percentage of corporate leadership, we are all vulnerable to vice. It's just that the issues most of us face are far more subtle and probably won’t land us on the six o’clock news, but they can be just as dangerous to the organization's long-term success if we turn a blind eye to them. The warning signs include:

  • One ego-driven person dominates a meeting and no one says anything about or to this person.
  • Many relationships within the company seem superficial and lack the kind of transparency that frees people to say what is on their minds.
  • People in the meeting you are leading only partially listen because they have so much else on their minds.
  • Your company needs to do the right thing in a particular situation, but it requires taking a financial loss, and nobody speaks up in favor of doing what everyone knows is right whatever the cost.
  • Someone in your organization carries an unspoken vendetta against someone else, and this is accepted as the norm.
  • A strategic partner goes back on his or her word.
  • Certain divisions in the company consistently fail to cooperate at a high level.

Maybe you can relate?

The Correlation Between Virtue and Vice

So, how do we steer clear of the vices and lead with virtue?

The first step is to understand the relationship between virtue and vice. Here is an overview of the eight leadership virtues (with their corresponding vice):

  • Virtue #1: Humility vs. Egotism
  • Virtue #2: Empathy vs. Busyness
  • Virtue #3: Attentiveness vs. Distraction
  • Virtue #4: Accountability vs. Greed
  • Virtue #5: Acceptance vs. Anger
  • Virtue #6: Integrity vs. Dishonesty
  • Virtue #7: Peacemaking vs. Territorialism
  • Virtue #8: Courage vs. Fear

Eight Leadership Virtues to Create

Knowledge is power, right? Note in this Vices-to-Virtues graphic how the vices in red and the green arrows pointing inward demonstrate the invasive affect the vices can have on the culture of an organization.

So, the starting point is education and knowing what the vices are and how they operate. But that’s just the beginning. If being aware that vices exist is a good defense, practicing the eight virtues is the best offense. The more you dig into these virtues, the more I think you’ll discover that they are essential tools for examining cultural dysfunction and for greater self-awareness in your organization. You will also find that they have universal application. These virtues are recognized commonly in every religious, philosophical, or national heritage. Yes, they are obvious, but are they systematically applied in your business culture?

The Bottom Line

The unique thing about these eight virtues is that they are inherently good. You can count on them to build value that will stand the test of time. I believe that if you embrace these virtues, you will help create a sustainable and competitive advantage for your company.