The six virtues that make great leaders


Before you can become an authentic leader, you have to know who you are. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

The recent launch of the Kenyan Annual Report on Values and Principles by the Public Service Commission-2021/22, has brought to light what Kenyans expect of their leaders; be it in the government or corporate sector.

The values and principles of governance which include patriotism, national unity, human dignity, equity, social justice, good governance, integrity, transparency, and accountability, should be what we emulate in public service delivery.

But will citizens feel the need to adhere to these principles and values if leaders in public service are not?

This is well captured in a statement made by leadership writer Alexandre Havard in his book Virtuous Leadership.

He says, “The perpetrators of corporate wrongdoing invariably know that what they are doing is wrong and yet they do it anyway…. This is a failure of character.”

Mr Havard blames corporate wrongdoing on the failure of such characters. This has been manifested in organisations that perform poorly to the point of even closing.

What then is the content of one’s character? Mr Havard defines character as “the sum total of the virtues that one strives for in their lives.”

And further defines virtues as “qualities of the mind, the will and the heart that instil strength of character and stability of personality.”

According to him, true leaders exercise six different virtues as a matter of habit which are: True leaders exercise the virtue of prudence, which is the ability to make the right decisions and always recognise that this is right and wrong. Our Constitution captures this virtue by naming accountability as a desired value.

Second, true leaders exercise the virtue of courage where the leader stays the course and resists pressure, especially from those who wield power.

Good governance is a constitutional imperative and it requires one to exercise courage. Sadly, we see public servants facing pressure to bend rules. We need courageous leaders to resist this pressure.

Third, true leaders exercise the virtue of self-control where they subordinate to their passions. The Constitution requires leaders to embrace integrity, transparency, and accountability. All these require self-control.

Fourth, true leaders exercise justice and ensure that everyone gets their due as opposed to only the big shots.

Given the scarce resources in Kenya, the Constitution requires leaders to embrace transparency, which is a prerequisite for justice.

Fifth, true leaders exercise the virtue of magnanimity where they strive for big and noble goals. The Constitution requires leaders to embrace patriotism, human dignity, and social justice, all within the ambit of magnanimity.

Sixth, true leaders exercise humility which is the tendency to overcome selfishness and to serve others habitually.

The Constitution requires leaders to embrace prompt, effective impartial, and equitable provision of services. The constitutional imperative is captured by the virtue of humility.

For future generations to adopt these virtues, we should embrace the teaching of virtue in families and schools through parents, teachers, workplace, community, faith-based and public leaders modelling them.

Dr Mwangi is the Executive Dean, Strathmore University Business School | [email protected]