Work That Matters: What Every CEO Should Demand

It’s almost never referenced in leadership books but it’s foundational for long-term success. People talk about its scarcity, not its excess. As Jim Collins noted in his book How the Mighty Fall, companies have gone extinct because they lack just one aspect of it. Without it, workforces are demoralized, good people leave the company, business performance goes down and in the worst cases leaders end up in jail. CEOs should be demanding it but most HR departments don’t even reference it in performance reviews.

Virtue. For want of it, leadership is at an all-time low. In her book, The End of Leadership, Barbara Kellerman from Harvard cited only 15% of Americans trust the Federal government to do what is right most of the time. And the numbers are even worse for business where only 7% of employees trust their leaders and managers.

In his book Virtuous Leadership, Alexandre Havard breaks down virtue into basic components, each of which could be easily incorporated into leadership development or a performance review system.

  • Magnanimity– The ability to inspire yourself and others to achieve great things
  • Courage– The ability to stay the course and resist pressures of all kinds
  • Prudence– The ability to make right decisions
  • Humility– The ability to overcome selfishness and serve others habitually
  • Justice– The ability to give every individual his due
  • Self-Control– The ability to subordinate passions to the spirit and fulfillment of the mission at hand

CEOs should be demanding virtue from everyone. A few businesses (e.g., Kwik Trip, the fastest growing convenience store in the Midwest; ask me for a copy of their 3 hiring questions) incorporate aspects of virtue in their hiring or performance expectations, but not many. Virtuous leadership not only keeps businesses out of trouble, it inspires employees to greater performance and better results. And whether you’re the CEO or not, it’s the right thing to do for work that matters.