Calling All Change Makers

The Virtue Proposition will inspire you, your team, and your organization for the better.

Calling All Change Makers
Sig Berg
January 9, 2024
Difference Makers

Subtitle: Excerpts from the soon to be released book: The Virtue Proposition, Five Virtues That Will Transform Leadership, Team Performance, and You by Sig Berg

Let Virtues Lead

The promise of The Virtue Proposition: Five Virtues That Will Transform Leadership, Team Performance, and You is this: virtuous leaders are the change-makers who inspire virtue-grounded teams that deliver consistent excellence. It explains how to achieve this. Know first that it will require courage. What is laid out here is not the path of traditional leadership, with its focus on the rules and rituals of boardrooms and c-suites. And it is not the path of iconoclastic leadership, which urges you to move fast and break things. Neither of these paths has, nor ever will, deliver consistent excellent performance. What is needed is a third way of leadership: virtue leadership.

What makes The Virtue Proposition transformational isn’t just its how-to insights and strategies. The Virtue Proposition will inspire you, your team, and your organization for the better because it insists that before you learn how, you must know why. Only virtuous leaders of virtues-grounded teams know fully why their purpose and performance matters, which immediately informs how they will achieve and surpass their goals.

This book holds to the unwavering commitment that knowing why you, your team, and your organization pursues its goals determines whether those goals are realized and, more importantly, the difference those goals will make. The greatest, most profound, and consequential difference you and your team can achieve requires letting virtues lead. Values matter, though how they matter depends entirely on what is being valued. When a team pursues a value proposition—a goal that promises to make a product, a company, an idea, or a person more appealing in the short term—they can discover that there are a thousand corners to cut, truths to bend, facts to ignore. When a team pursues a virtue proposition—a goal that promises to make a product, a company, an idea, or a person consistently better—they discover they have no such options.

We long for nobility, virtue, character, and altruism, yet find its opposite. We also long for truth, dependability, accountability, and pride-in-performance from service industries, product manufacturers, and the world’s leaders, yet all too often find its opposite.

The path of leadership must and can change. It requires the inspired, the courageous, the change-makers to embrace this virtue proposition. It requires leaders to have technical competence and solid relational skills. However, those two components must be integrated with a crucial third element, often missing today, virtue intelligence (VQ). This core component embraces five timeless and transcendent virtues: love, integrity, truth, excellence, relationships (LITER) catalyzed by courage. Integrated with emotional intelligence, virtue intelligence serves as an internal compass guiding a leader’s life, decisions, and behavior. 

 Value vs. Virtue – Why Does it Matter?

Few business leaders understand the distinction between values and virtues. In common parlance they are often used interchangeably. But they mean very different things and in practice lead to very different results. Many companies select a set of values which organize their work and define their brand, but these corporate values in turn need to be grounded in transcendent virtues. This happens when those virtues are demonstrated in the character and conduct of corporate leaders. Absent that, neither virtues nor values will ever gain sufficient leverage and traction within their organization.  Blurring the difference between values and virtues is a common and increasingly fatal error.

Values are moral sentiments rooted in expressive individualism. They are a choice that an individual makes about moral priorities based on their feelings. Three things are characteristic of values: they are the result of individual choice, they are based in the subjectivity of the self and feelings, and they are malleable over time and place. Values amount to little more than individual opinion. It is not uncommon for leadership programs to encourage their participants to participate in exercises of value clarification where individuals are encouraged to reflect on what is important to them as a leader, to get in touch with their feelings. The source of authority for values is the individual self.

Almost all contemporary leadership discussions on character operate within core assumptions that are value-based.  The goal of values-based leadership is authentic personal performance based on one's own personal truth. No matter what kind of words are used within this contemporary ethical frame to describe morals or values, this frame reverses, and eventually perverts traditional morality, traditional understandings of character, and traditional assumptions about the requirements of leadership. And when you drill down to the foundational level of leaders and teams, where relational competence is essential, you discover values based moral behavior renders both leaders and teams ineffective. The virtue proposition assumes a different frame.

Virtues appeal to an older philosophic and religious tradition in which morals are based in a transcendent objective reality. They exist outside of the self. They are part of the structure of reality. They are how the world works. They function like gravity, a universal objective reality that we deny at our own peril. They function like oxygen, a requisite for not just living a good life, but life itself. The virtue proposition acknowledges that there are objective moral criteria which, like gravity, like oxygen, impinge themselves on a person regardless of how he or she thinks or feels about them. They define the substance of character and are the standard by which the behavior of every leader is judged. When behavior—how one acts in a given circumstance— is aligned with virtues, we can speak of conduct: how one acts against transcendent moral criteria.

This virtues-based approach to the practical work of organizational and team leadership is essential for long-term success. Embracing it, acting within it, requires courage. The higher you go on the social and educational ladder, the greater the resistance there will be to the virtue proposition. I make no apology for such a contrarian approach because pragmatic success in actual organizational experience demands it. The virtue proposition accepts that there is no effective leadership without a prior commitment to objective morals, ultimate authority, or what we describe as transcendent virtues. The strongest case affirming the importance of the virtue proposition is the state of leadership among the world’s contemporary leaders. It also stands atop millennia of ancient and current scholarship, globally shared religious tenets and practices, and the objective achievements by virtue-based leaders—from Buddha to Jesus, from Marcus Aurelius to Abraham Lincoln, from General Dwight Eisenhower to Dr. James Orbinsky (Doctors Without Borders)—across history.

Transforming Leadership

Just reading this book will not produce such leaders. It is written to serve as an on-ramp for a personal and organizational journey in preparation, instruction, mentorship, and implementation. Starting it and completing, it is up to you. 

The SLG is the crucible within which the insights, strategies, and practices explained in The Virtue Proposition were forged. Its foundation is the belief that character matters to teams, and that teams are essential for effective organizations. The type of leadership of character based on transcendent virtues: the five virtues of love, integrity, truth, excellence, and relationships. I believe a network of such teams will transform organizations for the better. I believe a network of such leaders across America will address the crisis of leadership we are experiencing. I also believe that such teams and leaders will foster superior organizational success through their honest alignment with human nature and reality.

You are invited to participate in this aspirational movement of virtuous leadership.

Sig Berg is the Founder of the Severn Leadership Group. With degrees from the United States Naval Academy, Trinity Lutheran Seminary and the Harvard Graduate School of Business, he has served in the Navy, as a senior pastor, and in global executive positions. He currently is a Senior Mentor and Chairman of the Severn Leadership Group Board of Directors.

Calling All Change Makers

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