On Virtues

Virtues: What are they, really? And why do they matter in organizational management?

Alex Centeno

Justice (Fairness) serves as a guiding principle that ensures every individual is treated with equality and impartiality. It fosters trust and unity, and promotes a sense of harmony and understanding. Justice allows us to navigate through complexity and adversity with integrity and empathy. Without justice, the path becomes clouded with chaos and inequality, hindering progress and sowing discontent.

Fortitude (Courage) is the inner strength that empowers us to face and overcome challenges along the way. The road to success is often filled with obstacles and setbacks, but fortitude equips us with the resilience and determination needed to persevere. This virtue helps us navigate through difficult times, providing the courage to confront challenges and to stay focused on the goal, instilling in us a sense of endurance to keep pushing forward, even when the path seems arduous.

Virtues: Let's be clear...

Temperance (self-control) is reflected in the moderation of our actions, thoughts, and emotions. It enables us to maintain a balanced mindset, even when faced with difficulties. By practicing temperance, we can avoid impulsive decisions or reactions that may worsen the situation. Instead, we are able to carefully assess the circumstances and respond in a thoughtful and rational way. This virtue allows us to navigate through challenging situations with grace; helping us to resist temptations and choose the correct, advantageous path, ensuring that our actions align with our values and long-term goals.

Prudence (wisdom) is a quality that allows us to make sensible decisions whatever the circumstances. Prudence enables us to consider all possible outcomes and choose the best course of action. Through prudence, we are able to weigh the risks and benefits associated with our decisions, ensuring that we make choices that are not only beneficial to us but also to those around us. Prudence also helps us to avoid impulsive and reckless behaviors, leading to better outcomes in the long run. Prudence equips us with the ability to think critically and act responsibly, ultimately leading to more favorable results.

"And if anyone loves righteousness, her labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance, and prudence, justice and fortitude."

Wisdom of Solomon, 8:7

“Virtue may be defined as a habit of mind in harmony with reason and the order of nature. It has four parts: wisdom (prudentiam), justice, courage, temperance.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.)

Perhaps you have heard it said that patience is a virtue. While it is an admirable quality, it is really an extension of one of the pivotal virtues espoused by a consensus of classical philosophers, as well as Christian teachers. The cardinal virtues (from the Latin cardo, meaning a hinge or pivot) are:
Temperance, Prudence, Justice and Fortitude.

There are also the theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. And, they are certainly important. But, for this article I will keep the focus on the cardinal virtues as the leaven that should imbue and vivify your strategic plans.

These virtues are not "soft elements" of your strategic plan, per se, in ways that are often called for in strategic frameworks (e.g., McKinsey 7-S Model). Rather, they should be reflected upon, and reflected in your organization in such a way that it informs the character of your organization.

For anyone who has worked at more than one place before, you know that each organization develops its own culture, and we can get a clear sense of differences between places, even though they may not be specifically expressed to us. We know it because we experience the difference. To cite just one example, consider the experience of dining at one fast-food chicken place in relation to another fast food (Mc)place. These qualitative differences that we experience come down to the cultivated "character" of the organization. It doesn't just happen. Therefore, the extent - or even the possibility - of success hinges on the character that the organization's leaders cultivate.

In a very real sense, reflecting the cardinal virtues in the character of your organization comes down to loving, not only what you do, but also all those for whom you do it.

“Temperance is love giving itself entirely to what is loved.
Fortitude is love readily bearing everything for the sake of what is loved.
Justice is love serving only what is loved, and therefore ruling rightly.
Prudence is love distinguishing wisely between what hinders it and what helps it.
St. Augustine of Hippo