Build Your Virtues

Being an ethical leader is not something that naturally happens, and the global scale of unethical behavior and decisions by organizational leaders reveals this truth (Rossy, 2011, p. 35). Leaders who do not intentionally develop their ethical perspective risk allowing the bright line between right and wrong to become blurred and face the consequences of an ethical collapse (Jennings, 2006). Leaders who choose to grow in their understanding and practice of virtues will equip themselves to lead in an ethical manner.

Virtue comes from the Latin word meaning “strength” (Barnhart, 1995) and is an inclination to act, think, or feel in a particular way (Fedler, 2006). It is the foundation an individual’s character is built (Fedler, 2006) and as leaders adopt virtues into the development of their character there is a natural translation into actions and outcomes (Ciulia, 2014). However, this translation doesn’t come without work, diligence, and perseverance. Virtuous living is not like a character trait that one possesses naturally as a part of the personality, but it is developed through constant intention, which aligns it with its Latin etymological roots as being a strength.

It is for this reason why Paul, the Apostle, approached the virtues of the Spirit the way he did in Galatians 5. He doesn’t instruct the members of the Galatian church to freely allow their natural virtues to guide their behavior; instead he instructs the readers of his letter to resist the natural desires of the flesh, and choose to live out the virtues of the Spirit. Paul recognized in order have an ethical lifestyle, built on virtues, an individual, in particular a leader, needs to develop virtues in order to have happiness, productivity, and harmony (Sarros et al., 2006, p. 684).

Is there an age a leader reaches where building virtues becomes near impossible outside of a relationship with Jesus?


Barnhart, R. (1995). Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology (1 edition). New York: HarperCollins.

Ciulla, J. B. (Ed.). (2014). Ethics, the Heart of Leadership (3 edition). Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.

Fedler, K. D. (2006). Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Jennings, M. M. (2006). The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse: How to Spot Moral Meltdowns in Companies… Before It’s Too Late (First Edition edition). St. Martin’s Griffin.

Rossy, G. L. (2011). Five questions for addressing ethical dilemmas. Strategy & Leadership, 39(6), 35–42.

Sarros, J. C., Cooper, B. K., & Hartican, A. M. (2006). Leadership and character. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 27(8), 682–699.

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