Virtuous Leadership in Professional Services

by | Culture, Marketing Leadership, Prudence

“Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed of the day when a man would be judged ‘not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.’”


“What is the ‘content of character’?  It is virtue, or, more precisely, the set of classical human virtues–above all, magnanimity, humility, prudence, courage, self-control, and justice–…that leaders either strive to grow in virtue as surely as they breathe or they are not leaders.”

So begins the best book on leadership I have read in years–if not in my life. It is Virtuous Leadership: An Agenda for Personal Excellence by Alexandre Havard. This book should be on every desk in every professional services firm everywhere. Havard defines the virtues above, details their importance, bottom-lines the cost of their absence, and unapologetically highlights thinking from Thomas Aquinas, popes, and other religious and business leaders.


Here is a sample:


“Leadership is not a superficial question of style, but [it] has to do with who we are as human beings…The process of becoming a leader is much the same process of becoming an integrated human being.”  Warren Bennis

“To despise the gifts that God has given is not to humility, but to ingratitude.”  Thomas Aquinas

“Try to acquire the virtues you believe lacking in others. Then, you will no longer see their defects for you will no longer have them yourself.”  Saint Augustine


And Havard’s:


“True leaders are always leaders of leaders. For leaders, the achievement of high organizational goals is never an end in itself, but only a means to the higher end of growth for all concerned.”

“The noble virtues of magnanimity and humility are losing ground to the rampant egotism of modern culture, manifested in current philosophical trends, modes of behavior, and social conventions. The first step towards becoming a leader is to be aware of the state of affairs. The next is to declare your independence from it.”

“We humanize the world of work when we engage with the people around us–clients and colleagues–in deep kinds of ways. We cannot be cool or indifferent to the people who cross our path. We have a moral imperative to give of ourselves.”

“Leadership is not a technique. It does not focus on systems and structures but on people. It is not about know-how, but about know what and know why. It’s not about doing things right. It is about doing the right things.”



Havard says, “We acquire integrity and maturity through our own efforts. The very effort to acquire them is an act of leadership.” Professional services firms pride themselves on values like “integrity” and “trust.” But without a foundation of character or virtue, there can be neither of these prized traits. As Max De Pree states, “Managers who only understand methodology and quantification are modern-day eunuchs. They can never engender competence and confidence.”


Havard offers so much powerful insight into leadership, life, and excellence that I’m amazed that this book is not No. 1 on the best-seller list. The fact that it is not No.1 is a reflection of how out-of-fashion the virtues of magnanimity, humility, prudence, courage, self-control, and justice are.


If you want to become a stronger leader, then buy Virtuous Leadership. Read it, practice it, and repeat.


Be prudent.


Get the book: Virtuous Leadership: An Agenda for Personal Excellence

Havard’s website: The Havard Virtuous Leadership Institute

About the Author

Jeff McKay
Founder & CEO
Prudent Pedal

As a strategist and fractional CMO, Jeff helps firms set smart growth strategies in motion. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Learn more.

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