I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of tech leaders in various positions. In discerning 7 qualities of Inspiring Tech Leaders, the first, and most important quality that sets a person apart is their pursuit of virtue. There are few traits of a leader that are absolute qualifiers or disqualifiers, but for most of us, a person’s ethical standard fits into the category. It is very difficult to work for a person you feel is dishonest, cruel, or duplicitous. In contrast, a leader of virtue is inspiring, especially one that is understated and consistent. This is not virtue in a phony, judging, or hypocritical way, but is instead virtue that is true, authentic, and heartfelt. In a sense, the best leaders are abandoned to virtue, in the sense that the more they exemplify the virtues the more they represent what a great leader should and can be. To understand being a virtue based leader, I suggest starting with the Cardinal Virtues, which are not as well remembered these days, but are as relevant now as ever:
The ability to discern the right course of action for a scenario or event… to seek the truth of the matter. A person who is interested in pursuing the best outcome based on the best inputs, not based on bias, malice, fear, or anger. A person who is authentically prudent requires a sound and open mind, a commitment to decision making based on the best criteria, and respecting a diversity of opinions. The decision makers with the most prudence tend to have a healthy mix of clarity of thought, ability to make tactical decisions, and patience in making long term ones.
The ability to apply direction in a moral way, a righteous way, a fair way. The best tech leaders consider the right thing to do, especially as tech becomes a pervasive part of every part of business. Where is the right place to apply AI? How do we apply it and meet the spirit of the law? How do we not harm people through our application of technology? The bigger questions sometimes feel abstract, but in every business they need to be asked and it is often uncomfortable to stand up to authority and ask questions which direct toward a just answer.
The best tech leaders have an indomitable spirit. They are bold, willing to act, and capable of fulfilling a mission. They will stand true when they know their cause is right and just, supporting those that need supporting, lifting up those that need assistance, and transforming businesses when they need transforming. In my experience fortitude is a rare virtue in business leadership, especially in people willing to make bold choices.
The virtue of temperance might be incorrectly interpreted as stiff, “teetotaler”, or unengaged. It is instead the virtue of self-control, regulation, and self-mastery. The virtue of temperance is to moderate, manage, and be self-directed. For instance, seeing a child who is throwing a tantrum and “out of control” would tell us something about their maturity. In a similar way, an adult needs to be able to appropriately engage their emotions, reactions, and opinions in a constructive way. This doesn’t mean we are to behave absent them, but to apply them in a way which builds the community around us vs. harms it. The theme of self-mastery is well applied if you consider sports. The best athletes are those that have both individual capability and discipline. We’ve all heard of athletes who “could have excelled”, but didn’t because they didn’t put in the work. We also know of athletes who have over-trained and have burned themselves out. Temperance is the wisdom to know the difference.
The best leaders embody virtue not on their sleeve, but in their heart and quietly lead in an honest, considerate, and inspiring way. True leader of virtue are not those that shame us into action but inspire us into becoming more of who we are called to become.