Assuming a leadership role is a daring and dangerous thing to do warn Professors Al Gini and Roland Green.

Written from their perspectives as professors in ethics, as academics, consultants and public commentators, 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders explores the moral basis for leadership (and followership) with good leadership characterised as being anchored in ethical behavior. Al Gini and Roland Green argue that “what was true thousands of years ago remains so today. The quality of life of a community whether it is a political unit or a business corporation depends on the character of all its members and on the virtue of its leaders”.

This book sits within the Western Judeo-Christian tradition ,and mainstream leadership writing, but ranges widely within these drawing on a large number of sources and ideas. Carefully thought out and constructed, it is also engaging and, at 200 pages, concise.

10 Virtues is not a light leadership how-to guide, although Al Gini and Roland Green believe that the leadership virtues they explore can be learned and honed with practice. Neither does it shy from examining leadership’s dark side.

The first half of the book paints a picture of leadership on a large canvas seeking to define leadership, examine the importance of good character, and give an overview of the ten virtues:

  • Deep honesty
  • Moral courage
  • Moral vision
  • Compassion and care
  • Fairness
  • Intellectual excellence
  • Creative thinking
  • Aesthetic sensibility
  • Good timing
  • Deep selflessness

The second half highlights leaders who exemplify each of these virtues in the hope that by learning from them, and by developing these virtues ourselves, we too can become very good leaders.

The examples are focused within the United States (all but two leaders profiled) and male (again all but two) but this bias does not dilute the important points Al Gini and Roland Green make. The case studies are critiques which highlight the particular virtue demonstrated without glossing over less praiseworthy attributes; “a leader can possess numerous character flaws and yet show absolute brilliance with regard to one or more individual virtues”.

Far from being an outdated notion, Al Gini and Roland Green remind us that in leadership, as in other aspects of life, virtue remains important; they do so in a book which presents timeless, complex and significant ideas in a readable way.

First published in HR Monthly, August 2013