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The Virtuous Leader’s New Year’s Resolution

Wednesday, 6 February 2019  | Andrea Tokaji




Whether you are a New Year’s resolutionist or not, the New Year tends to bring renewed hope, energy and excitement for what could be. Yet the reality is: nothing changes, if nothing changes…

Whether it is the fitness regime, that financial goal, the longing for a new relationship in the New Year, career goals or just the hope of a holiday this year that is spurring you on, we are often occupied by the external challenges that we would like to overcome or goals that we would like to achieve, often at the cost of the internal changes that create long-lasting fruit.

Going beyond the #10yearchallenge

I was struck by this truth once again on social media this month as the #10yearchallenge went around from celebrities, Christian leaders and the every-day poster who all wanted in on the action. The goal? Prove that you have not aged in ten years, or that you have aged well…. On the outside.

But what about inner maturity?

In response, I posted a challenge on my social media platforms:

So, instead of putting side-by-side a photo of the #external you ten years ago and now, I challenge you to place #photos side by side that signify your #emotional, #intellectual, #spiritual, #relational #development and #contributiontosociety! #tenyearchallenge from #politicalcandidate to #humanrightslawyer #entrepreneur #antislaveryconsultant #businesslecturer #phdresearcher #howmuchhaveyouachieved #mymindisbeautiful #whathaveyouaccomplishedintenyears #10yearchallenge.

Why is it that we no longer value the development of personal virtues in our society? Have we become such quick-fixers that we do not even observe, encourage or celebrate the beauty that can come from a virtuous life?

Aristotle on Justice and Virtue

One of the books I have been reading this summer on the beach is Aristotle’s The Politics, written sometime between 384 and 322BC.

Aristotle’s first book predominantly explores the concept of virtuous rule, or leadership in the home, in the community and of course governmentally. His observations of a well-governed society see virtue, in particular the virtue of Justice, as a key component of the ‘goodness of a state’.

Aristotle explores the social nature of Justice not only as a virtue of moral Justice, but also as the principle of Equality, as the kind of Justice that is displayed in the form of ‘equitable fairness’.[1] Equality, like moral Justice, is identified by Aristotle as a social virtue. Aristotle therefore concludes that Justice and Equality are not two different virtues but merely two aspects of the same virtue.

Aristotle declares Justice to be ‘something that is essential in a state; for right is the basis of the political association and right is the criterion for deciding what is just’. This sounds fine, until you start to try to define ‘right’.

What is right - and who says it is? And, can a leader be just without the discipline of the personal pursuit of virtues that strengthens their moral resolve by virtue of living a ‘right’ life? Surely, if a leader lives a ‘right’ life by pursuing virtue, they are more able to govern with the convictions of the just. After all, isn’t this the reason we hold our leaders to a higher moral standard? Yet this still leaves us with the question of ‘what is right, and who says it is’?

Secular Relativists would find this particularly difficult, as their belief that there is no such thing as a universal truth (a universal truth statement in itself) quickly becomes a barrier to tangible definitions of right, justice, fairness, equality and equity.

Throughout history, we have seen the collateral damage that leaders have created as a result of their distortion of concepts such as ‘just’, right’ and ‘fair’. Hitler was totally convinced that the Arian race had the right to rule over more inferior races. Ceausescu, Romania’s Communist Dictator under whom my family and I escaped, used the word ‘freedom’ in his communist propaganda, but assigned the word with a new meaning to legitimise the imposed regime through which he abused the rights of the people.

Aristotle leaves us with the observation that: ‘it makes a difference to the goodness of a state that its children should be good and its women good …. For women make up half the adult free population and from children come those who will become citizens and will participate in the political life’.[2] Putting aside the issue of equality issue raised by this quote, Aristotle is saying that the virtuous leader who knows Justice can contribute to the ‘goodness’ of a state. That’s a whole lot of power right there!

Whether or not you are in a leadership position, you are a leader, because there are people in your everyday world that you influence. As leaders who seek to bring ‘goodness’ to the world around us, we have to ask: how can we best achieve this? Perhaps the answer lies within ourselves. For leadership is more who we are, rather than what we do.

Aristotle introduced the following twelve (12) virtues for contemplation and practice:

  1. Courage: bravery and valour.
  2. Temperance: self-control and restraint.
  3. Liberality: big-heartedness, charity and generosity.  
  4. Magnificence: radiance, joie de vivre.
  5. Pride: self-satisfaction.
  6. Honour: respect, reverence, admiration.
  7. Good Temper: equanimity, level headedness.
  8. Friendliness: conviviality and sociability.
  9. Truthfulness: straightforwardness, frankness and candour.
  10. Wit: sense of humour – meaninglessness and absurdity.
  11. Friendship: camaraderie and companionship.
  12. Justice: impartiality, evenhandedness and fairness.[3]

On the surface, this list of virtues seems comprehensive - but for the spiritual realities of our world. St Benedict continues where Aristotle left off.

St Benedict’s ‘Rule’ an the Way of Christ

If it is true that we are Spirit beings longing to connect spirit to Spirit to bring eternal solutions by His Spirit, surely we must pursue virtue beyond Aristotle’s list? Comparatively, the disciplines of a monastic life under the rules of St Benedict (born 480AD), as they were written at the beginning of the sixth century, include:

  1. Love of Christ and Neighbour.
  2. Prayer: a life marked by liturgy, lectio, and mindfulness.
  3. Stability: commitment to the daily life of this place, its heritage and tradition.
  4. Conversatio: the way of formation and transformation.
  5. Obedience: a commitment to listening and consequent action.
  6. Discipline: a way toward learning and freedom.
  7. Humility: knowledge of self in relation to God, others and creation.
  8. Stewardship: responsible use of creation, culture and the arts.
  9. Hospitality: openness to others.

10.  Community: call to serve the common good.

11.  Justice and Peace: active ordering of life.

St Benedict’s ‘Rule’ compels the leader to transform their world from the inside out. Benedict instructs his followers in a life of prayer, silent contemplation, obedience to Christ, and discipline of mind, body and flesh - a life of service to others and a life that transcends one’s own selfish ambitions and will.

These principles were displayed most clearly in the leadership of Christ. In Christ, leadership looked like laying down His life for all mankind, taking an undue punishment on His shoulders; it looked like laying down His own agenda - for the glory of God - and being obedient to God’s will - even unto death. Although fully Divine, Jesus did not see equality with God as something to be grasped (Phil 2:6). What an amazing statement! Jesus displayed leadership by laying down His life in servant obedience to God, even though it cost Him everything.

Jesus had his own list of virtues, in the form of the Beatitudes (Matt 5:2-12), which included defining a ‘blessed life’ as someone who:

  1. Feels another’s spiritual poverty.
  2. Waits upon the Lord/mourns.
  3. Is gentle.
  4. Craves righteousness.
  5. Demonstrates tender mercies.
  6. Has a pure heart.
  7. Makes peace.
  8. Bears the wounds of the persecuted, or is persecuted - because of their love for Him!

These are the virtues Jesus exemplified and calls us to model to a hurting world that longs for His goodness.

The Call to Virtuous Leadership

The virtuous leader is called to this - and more.

The Christian faith teaches us that as we are created in the Image of God, that we have the power to create - create through art, film, architecture, innovation, technology, through music, carpentry or sculpting, or simply to create joy and laughter through a smile. We also have the power to create atmospheres, positive or negative relationships, financial conditions, environmental impacts and so much more. There is no end to our ability to impact the world around us, but for the limitations within ourselves.

In order to create good in our world, the virtuous leader first needs to know what good is, and to have the ability to share that with others and with the world. The virtuous leader needs to know the source of goodness, truth, beauty, justice, righteousness and holiness in order to emanate that which we feel, experience, see and learn in Christ, to transcend this world in order to create a better one.

For whatever is pure, holy, good, true - think on these things. (Phil 4:8)

For as a man thinks, so he is. (Proverbs 23:7)

In our superficial pursuit of notoriety through social media movements such as the #tenyearchallenge, we are forgetting the most important things in life: we are forgetting ourselves, and our Source! 

So, let’s start the year right.

As leaders pursuing a life of virtue that will make us worthy of such a call, we first need to consecrate ourselves afresh to our Lord in humble obedience through the example of Christ and the empowering of the Holy Spirit for service to Him in 2019. And we are to deal - as much as is humanly possible - with the gunk in our own hearts that will delay this most important pursuit.

In light of this, my encouragement to you as you pursue virtuous leadership in 2019 is to consider prioritising the pursuit of the following New Year’s Resolutions, by choosing that which brings freedom, faith and courage:

  1. Choose Freedom: this includes freeing yourself from people’s expectations of you; freeing others by not placing expectations on them; freeing yourself from the self-destructive self; freeing your mind by renewing it daily (Romans 12:2).
  2. Choose Faith: faith for a better tomorrow in your local and global world; faith and belief in yourself and in others; faith for more than what you see; faith that stretches beyond yourself to the miraculous; and faith that inspires others.
  3. Choose Courage: remain a person of integrity - even when it costs you; have the courage to be your authentic self; have the courage to be a vulnerable leader who always seeks to lift others up.

In so doing, you will be transformed from the inside out and be able to transcend the limitations of self. But we cannot do it alone. Gather a trusted community around you who will encourage, uplift, spur on and hold you accountable to these most worthy pursuits.

Keep loving God, learn to love yourself and work at loving others. Acknowledge that it is only by the gifts and strength of the Holy Spirit that we can truly be transformed, so that we can transform the world around us.

Have an awesome 2019!

With love,

Andrea

Andrea Tokaji is a human rights lawyer, business lecturer, anti-slavery consultant and political strategist pursuing a PhD at Notre Dame University who abhors injustice with a passion.



[1] Aristotle, The Politics, Book 11, trans. T. A. Sinclair (London: Penguin Classics, 1962), 1132.

[2] Aristotle, The Politics, Book 1, Chapter 13, 54.

[3] Victoria Rayner, ‘12 Virtues Introduced by Aristotle – the master of those who know’, 12th June 2011, https://aesthetichealingmindset.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/4706/.


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