The cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude) form a foundation for personal excellence, and are also the foundation for leadership. But for leadership excellence something further is required.
In his book Created for Greatness, Alexandre Havard plunges into two very specific virtues that he believes are essential to leadership: magnanimity and humility. He defines magnanimity as striving toward great things and humility as the ambition to serve.
Havard writes that a person can base their actions on the cardinal virtues, but they must base their reason for living on something more, on magnanimity and humility. Both of these virtues speak to the inherent dignity and greatness of each and every person. Magnanimity affirms one’s personal dignity and greatness and humility affirms the dignity and greatness of others. Magnanimity is the thirst to lead a full and intense life and humility is the thirst to love and sacrifice for others.
The unique combination of these two virtues, suggests Havard, is at the essence of true leadership – greatness and service. Another way of speaking about this might be to describe leadership as becoming great by bringing greatness out of others.
Greatness for the sake of others; I think this is an ideal and a vision that everyone can aspire to. These two virtues together invite us to set the bar higher, to go beyond just ourselves, to be protagonists. The protagonist is the leading character, the hero who is aspiring to do the right thing, initiating activity and moving the plot forward, not simply standing on the sideline and watching the events unfold. We can all be protagonists in the drama of our own lives striving for great things at the service of others.
However at times we don’t believe this. We can become small-minded about ourselves and question what difference we can make in the world. This attitude will leave us stuck in a place where our true potential goes untapped. What a shame if we buy into this lie. What we don’t realize is that virtuous leadership is contagious, and as we strive to be virtuous leaders, we are in fact liberating others to discover their full potential as well. It brings to mind the quote from Marianne Williamson, which is often ascribed to Nelson Mandela:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
How might you become great by bringing greatness out of others?