Developing Leader Virtues: Suggestion #4



A good leader must have the right skills for leading ethically.  But this is not enough.  Some business educators have come to stress the importance of nurturing the creative mind and the heart, rather than maintaining an almost exclusive devotion to technical training.  Business education needs to be humanized (Donaldson & Freeman, 1994; Walton, 1994). Ethics is best—and most successfully—taught along with the value-engaging perspectives of history, philosophy, literature, languages, and intercultural studies.  Solomon (1994) recommends that this include cultivation of the virtues and a concern for inspiring students to be good, humane persons.  This is C. S. Lewis’s message in The Abolition of Man (1944, 2001).  Education should build hearts devoted to traditional, universal virtues such as courage, honor, and love of neighbor; the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought (Aristotle, quoted in Lewis (1944, 2001, p. 16).

But how can you, a working leader, improve your values perspective, and thus your heart, without returning to university for a humanities degree?  You can adopt the habit of reading great works of literature, including biographies and autobiographies of leaders.  Reading such literature can help you better appreciate how others came to recognize and address leadership challenges.  Of course, this is not a new idea or a hidden secret for leadership success—just note how the better speakers and the most respected leaders refer to what they have read.

What should you read?  It’s up to you.  You can find edifying books, articles, and videos at the library and the bookstore; by soliciting recommendations from counselors and mentors, coworkers, friends, and teachers; and from literature reviews.  Through disciplined reading and discussion with your colleagues, you can nourish your intellect and stimulate your motivation for character development and relational skills.

You might object that you are too busy to read, if it is not required for the immediate and many tasks that always are on your plate.  Why should you spend your valuable time reading biographies and other works of literature?  You don’t need to become a bookworm, but you can consider the time you devote to reading as an investment.  The returns will be in terms of your expanded near-term knowledge and creative insights.  Moreover, over the longer term, you will likely come to realize that you are a more complete and interesting, even wiser, person. You might well become recognized as a better leader.


Donaldson, T. & R. E. Freeman, eds. (1994). Business as a Humanity. NY: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, C. S. (1944, 2001). The Abolition of Man. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

Solomon, R. (1994). “Business and humanities: An Aristotelian approach.” In T. Donaldson & R. E. Freeman, eds. (1994). Business as a Humanity. NY: Oxford University Press, 45-75.

Walton, C. (1994). “Management education: Seeing the round earth squarely.” In T. Donaldson & R. E. Freeman, eds. (1994). Business as a Humanity. NY: Oxford University Press, 109-141.

This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.  See previous blogs for additional suggestions.