Virtues @ Work
General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day. Wikimedia commons
‘The greatest among you will be a servant. Those who exalt themselves, will be humbled. Those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Matthew 23: 11-12
What is Leadership?
Leadership is the art of governing, influencing, and guiding a person or group of people toward goals. Leaders are people who have the responsibility for guiding people towards a task, and authority over them in the circumstances, or organizational framework in which their leadership is exercised. To effectively lead, a leader must mold their temperament and raw abilities into skills and character traits that will enable them to understand the domain in which they operate, define objectives that are good and true, and pursue them with prudence.
Leaders are effective when they act on the basis of the virtues, or stable character traits that they have developed and honed over time. If a leader acts on the basis of raw power, manipulation, deceit, or for selfish and immoral objectives, they will poison the environment in which they operate. A good leader commands respect, and derives their authority from their abilities, the way they treat those around them, and the worthiness of the goals that they seek. Rather than striving to achieve simple concrete objectives, good leaders see their goals as part of a greater effort to serve others, help them grow into better people, and ultimately, pursue what is true, good and beautiful.
In order to lead and serve simultaneously, leaders must cultivate the twin, complementary virtues of magnanimity and humility. Magnanimity is the habit of striving for great things. The magnanimous leader has a positive vision, a sense of mission and the ability to instill those things in others by inspiration and example. Humility, on the other hand, is about service. The humble leader guides, teaches, and inspires, rather than acting in a manner characterized by forcefulness.
Effective leaders must have a proper understanding of the goals they pursue. This means having the appropriate technical, domain specific knowledge and understanding in the field within which they operate, but also a sense of the general good that is proper to human beings, and how that good is made manifest in the particular circumstances in which they find themselves. This understanding is not a purely intellectual affair, but involves the exercise of the heart, will, and mind working together. Through the heart, we contemplate the virtuous way of acting in order to perceive its beauty and desire it as the end we seek; we slowly learn to act virtuously by means of our will, which is formed through a combination of restraint and persistence; lastly, to act well we must use our minds to behave prudently, learning to be reflective enough to assess the right way to act in each circumstance.
In summary, leadership is about developing a good character, which is accomplished by cultivating the virtues. Key to leadership are the twin virtues of magnanimity and humility – striving for greatness, and the service of others. Lastly, leaders cannot lead if they do not understand the good that they seek – a task that involves the heart, the will and the mind in unison.
Written by Peter Copeland
Interview on Leadership with Ash Andrews
How do you define leadership?
Leadership is influence. The most powerful form of influence emerges when leaders adopt the guiding principles of humility and service to make a significant positive impact on the lives of others.
Essential to the development of leadership is the formation of character, which is developed through the quest for personal discipline and excellence. Leaders continue to evolve over a lifetime of professional failures, personal crucibles and constant self-development.
The ultimate goal for every leader should be to achieve greatness, not for themselves, but to discover the greatness in others and develop them into leaders themselves.
How does the virtue of leadership relate to work?
Many people view their work as a measure of success and their own self-worth.
Success is often measured by personal fortune and societal advancement. People shouldn’t strive to achieve success alone, but instead, they should strive to achieve significance. Significance is achieved by pursuing a higher ambition, beyond self, that lifts the lives of others in some way.
Similarly, self-worth is not built on self-centeredness - it is built on selflessness. Self-worth develops through subordinating your needs to someone else’s and inspiring them to be a better version of themselves. This leads to a deeper, longer lasting fulfillment and sense of self. Many focus on pursuing material wealth and status, to compensate for a deeper void that can only be filled by giving, rather than taking.
Leaders who understand this, can influence the lives of others in significant and meaningful ways at work, and in return lead fulfilling lives themselves, while being catalysts for positive change.
Why is it important in a work context?
Poor leadership can have a permanently damaging impact on someone’s life. Which is why good leadership is critically important in a work context.
Leadership impacts confidence, ambition, wellbeing and ultimately the realization of life goals. My leadership is demonstrated in a corporate setting and as a teacher in educational institutions. I have experienced poor leadership in both environments, and it can be devastating on an individual level.
Poor leadership can be defined in a variety of ways by different people. I define it as the lack of inspiration and the subjugation of others. I have been the recipient of such leadership and know how it feels. It comes back to character formation – if a leader’s character is formed with self-interest as their guiding principle, they will not be effective. Equally, leaders can only give what they have within them. If they are uninspired and subjugated at work or at home, they will serve up the same ingredients to others. Which is why I say great leadership starts with an effort to conduct an honest examination of self, and the pursuit of personal discipline and excellence.
Leaders will meet many people as they climb the ladder of success. But when they get to the top, the only way is down. When leaders fall, they encounter the same people who saw them on the way up. When descending from their pinnacle, leaders will need the help of those same people. Those people will not remember what the leader achieved, but they will remember how the leader made them feel on their way up.
How have you personally built on this virtue?
There is only one way you can truly build on your leadership, and that is through failure. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. Over the years, I have learned from my own personal and professional failures, and those of others. Leadership is a lifelong struggle and journey, and I continue to learn.
At its core, leadership is the study and understanding of people. I have tried to understand what inspires people and motivates them to be better. In doing so, I have encountered many people who have given up on their careers and/or their lives because they feel like victims of a system rigged against them, or are they just tired with the challenges of life.
There are a few common needs that bind all human beings together, and that is our need for hope, respect and to know that we are seen. It does not matter if you are a wealthy person, a company employee, a student or from any other walk of life. Everyone seeks hope for advancement, to improve their socio-economic status, to give their families a brighter future, and to hope in life generally, and in doing so, to be respected for who they are and their journey. At the very least, we all want to know that someone sees us, that we exist and that we are worthy of love.
My objective as a leader is to walk through life with humility and service. This will allow me to be open to the opportunity to learn about the hope and respect that others seek, to let them know that I see them in whatever context I encounter them, and perhaps be someone who showed them that they can achieve their own greatness.
Did somebody mentor you on this? Have you mentored others about leadership?
I was never mentored on leadership unfortunately. I have learned through my own mistakes, observing the failures of other leaders with the goal of becoming an effective leader myself. I have spent numerous hours reading biographies of the greatest leaders. As well, my Christian faith provides me with my guiding principles.
The common theme I found is that those who live to glorify themselves eventually come crashing down, and those who walk through life with humility and service to others have the greatest impact on humanity. Consequently, I try to be a mentor to as many people as I can because I know how it feels to be overlooked, uninspired, lose hope with life and work. I’ve encountered many young people who have moved to Canada and the United States from other countries, searching for hope of a better life. They sacrifice everything to make a life in their new home country.
I like to be a mentor to them. I can speak from my own experience and I am living proof that it does not matter what race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or any other background you identify with – if you dream it – you can achieve it. That is my purpose in life – to help people overcome the odds and their mindsets – to become great leaders and live a life of significance.
How have you lived this virtue at work?
In a corporate setting, I have had the privilege to lead teams – either direct reports or project teams, working across Europe, Canada and the USA. My goal is always to develop my team, and give them the room to demonstrate their talents, with the mission to create them into leaders.
When I meet my team members, I try to understand what motivates and inspires them and weave those criteria into their experience on a project or as members of my department. My metric for success is when I know that at any given point, any member of my team can replace me. My work is then done and it’s time for me to move to to my next challenge, and make room for them to rise.
However, I have found that the most effective way I have been able to lead is as an educator. As a teacher, I have a greater opportunity to demonstrate the values of humility, service, and steer the lives of my students by giving them the hope and skills to develop as professionals and people. I have taught at large, rich Ivy League institutions and smaller colleges that cater to students from lower income backgrounds, but have the ambition and intelligence to make a mark in the world.
Whatever background my students come from - and I cannot state this enough – I love my students! Each student to me becomes a single unit of ambition, of my aspiration to create leaders out of them or at least to give them the confidence that I am there for them and I see them as they learn their new skills. I get to know the motivations of my students and am always available to them, even if they need someone to just listen.
It is important to note that leadership never ends, it is a continuous process of reinforcing and lifting others up. I still have students and colleagues that approach me years after we first met to support them in a variety of ways. I always make myself available and lift them up if I can. Leaders are always “on-call”, and if practiced right, they are dreaming someone else’s dream along with them.
Do you have any examples of failing to live this virtue at work, and did you overcome that?
I have had way too many failures to pick just one. However, I can speak to a consistent theme and challenge that I still continue to work on. I have been able to lead more effectively and have had more of a direct impact as a teacher than as a corporate citizen.
In the corporate world, a leader’s role becomes more of a problem solver. You get embroiled in corporate politics, competition, tribal mentality, getting buy-in from multiple stakeholders, managing your skeptics, and other distracting forces. One failure has been that I get entangled in the rough and tumble of the corporate environment, losing effectiveness and sight of the bigger picture – my north star: what makes the work meaningful to me; and leading with my own convictions. Another challenge has been meeting people who just want a steady job and the easy life, so they do the bare minimum with the least amount of effort.
One lesson I learned way too late in my work life is that as a teacher your impact can be made by being a single agent of change. However, in a corporate setting, you cannot bring about change on your own, the leader needs to find like-minded individuals and build coalitions with others to support when the going gets tough to keep you grounded. It’s also imperative that your initiatives continue to support the company’s objectives.
For the people who try to just get by at work, I try to find out what they value and attach meaning to. I try to connect their work activity to their value systems. When someone is only interested in something, they will do the bare minimum. Conversely, when someone is committed, they will do whatever it takes. I try to get them committed.
Do you have any examples of friends or colleagues living this virtue at work?
To answer this question, I am going to give the word “work” a broader context – a meaningful pursuit in someone’s life that provides them ultimate fulfillment and leads to a positive impact on someone else’s life.
Two friends come to mind - a single mother and a father of a large family. Their work is raising their children by being stellar parents. They subordinate their own needs. They are there for their children through the worst of adversities, not worrying about their own reputation, but rather being present at all times, no matter what happens, good or bad. They go the extra mile to provide the best values and amenities to their families, particularly their children.
Someday those children will honor their parents by being great themselves. They lead their children with humility and service, by perfecting their character and ultimately finding greatness in their children, sometimes at a monumental personal cost – financially, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. They are an inspiration to me.
About Ash Andrews
Ash Andrews is a digital marketing expert with close to 20 years of experience across the globe. He has worked as a senior in-house marketer and a consultant. His credentials include working with several blue-chip brands in a variety of industries, while holding senior level leadership positions. He is currently director for a management consulting firm based in California. He is also founder and president of The Andrews Groupe, a marketing consultancy that provides digital solutions to a range of companies in Canada and the US in digital marketing and artificial intelligence.
In addition to his corporate responsibilities, Ash teaches as an adjunct professor of marketing at Columbia University in New York, University of Toronto and Seneca College in Toronto. He has also been a guest lecturer at University of California, University of Denver and Toronto’s York University.
Ash is passionate about leadership and lectures on the subject. He has held global leadership responsibilities, working with diverse teams and leading projects across several geographies and cultures. Ash received his Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied at the Wharton School of Business and Annenberg School of Communications.
Place of Birth: New Delhi, India
Current place of residence: Toronto
Marital Status: Married, no children