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Can Leaders Be Taught Virtues?
Can Leaders Be Taught Virtues?

Can Leaders Be Taught Virtues?

The question was raised: can virtues be taught?  The notion being that too much emphasis is placed purely on developing skills, but little or none on Virtues.  The extension of the question became, can we teach virtues to our Leaders and executives?

In the following discussion it became apparent there is no clear, definitive answer.  Some simply felt that Virtue cannot be taught. Period.

My view though is, Yes, Virtues can be taught, but not at a 3-day seminar.  A virtue is fundamentally a ‘behavior’ based on the holder’s values assigned to things like ethics, morals, legality, and spirituality.  The expectation that virtues cannot be taught may be a perspective taken by an increasingly secular world.

Anyone with a strong spiritual, religious, foundation may feel strongly that virtue—can—be taught.  After all, virtues can be developed by your particular religions upbringing.  For instance, not being promiscuous would certainly be a virtue taught by many religions.

Our values, and in turn behavior, are also driven by where we each of us live—further evidence virtue is taught.  Things seen as virtuous by the Japanese may be markedly different than those held by the Chinese, or by Americans.  (Try doing a Google search on a phrase like, “Top 5 [name your country] virtues”.)

Within America, many would feel behaviors based on interpretations of ethics, morals, legality, and most certainly spirituality, vary significantly between California and many other parts of the country—such as the Midwest.

Virtue clearly can be taught even if only through time spent in certain surroundings.  If it were not the case, we might all have the same basic set (to some degree we do, it’s an evolutionary aspect of brain development, read: How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer.)

Where I see the biggest challenge is that virtues can change based on life experience, and I believe, are developed over an extended period of time (e.g. my 8 years in parochial school, combined with religious parental upbringing).  How virtuous development could be done in, say, a 3 day class would seem debatable.

One comment

  1. Deb

    Hi JT. I like your mix of posts. This one caught my eye in particular. I agree the a 3 day class is a dubious use of time for virtue development. Did you know that the following virtues research work is going on at the University of Chicago?

    There are some great forum post by faculty & researchers.

    Here’s the summary: The Arete Initiative at the University of Chicago is pleased to announce a new $3 million research program on a New Science of Virtues. This is a multidisciplinary research initiative that seeks contributions from individuals and from teams of investigators working within the humanities and the sciences. We support highly original, scholarly projects that demonstrate promise of a distinctive contribution to virtue research and have the potential to begin a new field of interdisciplinary study.

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