Virtue-Based Leadership: The Power of Virtues (vs. Values) to Drive Your Organization’s Success
05 / 03 / 17

Virtue-Based Leadership: The Power of Virtues (vs. Values) to Drive Your Organization’s Success

What values should guide our leadership and company?

How can we create a culture of trust that attracts--and keeps--the best people?

What will it take to ensure our company has a sustainable competitive advantage?

My name is David Harper, and for years I wrestled with questions like these. Then, a few years ago, the answers began to become clear to me at a business meeting in Chicago.

Stunned by Hype

I arrived at that meeting expecting to gain insight for the next year. I was primed to be motivated. Instead, I came away demotivated. I gained insight all right, but not the kind I expected -- or wanted.

All of the attendees, including those from our firm, were several years into a partnership in the executive benefits business through a joint marketing agreement. The leader of the group had the reputation of being a real superstar in our business.

At first, we were all enamored with this “superstar’s” mystique. He was the picture of success. Whenever he partnered with us in certain situations, the clients were impressed.

But then a few minor inconsistencies cropped up between what this man promised and what he delivered. Now it is clear to me that almost everything he said was part of his proverbial “hype machine.” He was driven by ego, selfish ambition, and seemed to attract others who were wired the same way.

The insight our leader shared at the meeting in Chicago was this: He and several other attendees were the “A Team,” and we should bring them in on all of our new business opportunities going forward. This, as you may imagine, felt like a kick in the gut. The implication was that the rest of us were assigned to the “B Team.”

I wondered why they considered themselves the “A Team.” Some of the people on the so-called “A Team” had less production than we did; yet, they dominated most of the discussion. They seemed to enjoy hearing themselves talk while the rest of us sat in silence, too stunned to voice our objections.

Need for Change

It wasn't long after this meeting that things began to deteriorate, and it became clear that we needed to separate ourselves from this dysfunction. "Superstar" leaders require lots of placating. You stroke their ego rather than confront them.

In retrospect, I cannot believe we put up with his behavior as long as we did. The ultimate outcome was not surprising. Within the next two years, all the guys on the ego-driven “A Team” were at each other’s financial throats, suing one another.

That’s when we finally saw that our superstar’s values and ours were not the same. Knowing what you don’t value is the first step toward knowing who you are. But that wasn’t enough. We had to clarify our values for our strategic partners, clients, and ourselves. There were issues on the external side with clients, where strategic partners failed to complete promised deliverables within the required time. With the strategic partners, we also noticed that our internal verbal agreements were conveniently “forgotten.”

Values were an internal issue as well. One of the marketing representatives in our organization traveled to another state for multiple days at a time over several months at the company’s expense. Every time he returned, he gave glowing reports about all of the new opportunities he’d uncovered on his trip. At first, we believed he was doing a great job; however, none of these trips led to any new business opportunities. The only people he sold on anything was our own team.

Why Virtues (vs. Values)?

This experience drove home the need to clearly identify corporate values for our organization. Bill Straub, my partner, and the rest of our internal team began discussions on these issues.

We looked at other corporate value statements, but what we reviewed seemed to be more focused on political correctness than on anything of substance. It’s not that we disagreed with these value statements, such as “protecting the environment,” “being a proponent of diversity,” and “striving for continuous improvement.” We couldn’t help but notice that these statements appeared suspiciously crafted to create a good perception with the public, as opposed to instilling internal values with the potential to guide people within an organization. With this review, it opened our minds and that is how we came upon "The Great 8."

The great 8 diagram

Virtues are Universal

For several years, I’d been studying eight virtues that I discovered in the Book of Matthew, which are universal in their application to the broad spectrum of all human experience. Over time, I began to see how these same virtues could also be foundational for any organization, including ours, to thrive for the long haul.

This got us thinking about the terminology we were using to define our corporate values because the term “value” seemed to imply a relative or temporary framework, often derived from the latest buzzwords touted by management gurus. However, “virtue” conveys a sense of being timeless and universal, offering a more dependable guide for how to lead our organizations to achieve sustainable and enduring success.

Therefore, instead of developing a list of corporate values, we adopted the eight virtues – The Great 8 – as a set of immutable traits to develop in our personal leadership and instill in our team.

Practicing Virtue-Based Leadership

What exactly are these "Great 8" leadership virtues? How can you practice these virtues to transform your leadership--and organization?

You can find the full story in my book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership.”

But I also teach a deeper dive into this idea of virtue-based leadership in my twice-a-month email newsletter.

Ultimately, my mission is to make these “Great 8” leadership virtues accessible to anyone who is willing to learn and put each virtue into practice--so you can achieve a stronger, more sustainable competitive advantage for your organization.


About the Author: J. David Harper, Jr. serves as President and CEO of Legacy Advisory Partners, an Atlanta, Georgia-based firm that provides corporate benefits consulting and small business consulting that gives clients a greater competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent. David is also author of the book The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership that teaches business leaders how they can tap into eight timeless “virtues” to expand their influence and achieve sustainable success for their organizations.