Virtues and leadership

Rick D. Hackett (Department of Human Resources Management & Organizational Behaviour, DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada)
Gordon Wang (Department of Human Resources Management & Organizational Behaviour, DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Publication date: 25 May 2012



The purpose of this paper is to bring definitional clarity to the term “virtue” as pertinent to the behavioural sciences literatures on leadership; to identify a short and consolidated list of cardinal virtues commonly associated with leadership effectiveness; to provide a model relating leader virtues to leader outcomes (i.e. ethics, happiness, life satisfaction, and effectiveness); and to propose a program of research.


The authors systematically and comprehensively review Aristotelian and Confucian literatures on virtue ethics, and the literatures on seven leadership styles – i.e. moral, ethical, spiritual, servant, transformational, charismatic, and visionary leadership.


Six virtues, including four considered cardinal by Aristotle (courage, temperance, justice and prudence), and two considered cardinal by Confucius (humanity, and truthfulness), were common to all seven leadership styles.

Research limitations/implications

Researchers should aim to develop and validate a measure of virtuous leadership based on the six cardinal virtues presented here and also to test both the proposed measurement and structural models.

Practical implications

The authors' recommended program of research will ideally inform development and design of selection and training programs for enhancing virtuous leadership.


The authors provide definitional clarity to the term “virtue” – one that is well grounded in the moral philosophy and virtue ethics literatures; consolidate vast and varied literatures on seven different widely subscribed leadership styles and identify six cardinal virtues most likely to positively impact leadership effectiveness; present an organizing framework, structural model, and research agenda to catalyze research on virtuous leadership.



Rick D. Hackett and Gordon Wang (2012) "Virtues and leadership", Management Decision, Vol. 50 No. 5, pp. 868-899

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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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