Easter week is just around the corner as I write this post. At the heart of Easter is the message of the gospel. In this brief post, I’d like to make some connections between the core message of Easter and leadership practice.
Ethics matter for those working at diverse organizational levels. But ethics especially matter for leaders.
We want to know that what our leaders say is true. We want to see that the actions of our leaders are consistent with what they say as leaders.
General Ethical Approaches
Though certainly an oversimplification of ethical theory, we can argue that there are three primary approaches to ethics:
- Virtue Ethics
- Duty Ethics
- Utilitarian Ethics
Here is a brief overview of these approaches drawn from an article I wrote with a colleague:
|Virtue Ethics||Duty Ethics||Utilitarian Ethics|
|Key operational question||Who ought I to be?||What ought I to do?||What brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number?|
|Definition of Happiness||Fulfilling one’s purpose or function||Adherence to moral absolutes||Maximization of pleasure, absence of pain|
|Focus||Character of the individual||Rules and resulting obligations of the individual||Outcomes and consequences|
- A utilitarian approach to ethics bases decisions on what brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number.
- A duty-based approach (or deontological approach) to ethics bases decisions on what one ought to do.
- A virtue-based approach to ethics bases decisions on who one ought to be.
The Priority of Virtue Ethics
While there are supporting arguments for each of these ethical paths, I find that the most effective form of ethical practice is grounded in virtue-oriented approaches. Why is this?
In times of crisis and ethically challenging circumstances, people will tend to do what is natural to them. They will act in accordance with who they are. Because of this, the most powerful approach to ethics is one that takes seriously the formation of ethical people at a level of virtues and character.
Though we need moral guidance (a deontological and duty-based approach), the capacity to act on this comes from moral fortitude (an ontological and virtue-based approach).
Virtuous leadership requires virtuous leaders. Ethical leadership requires ethical leaders.
Because of this, a foundational question in this discussion is how does one become a virtuous person/leader?
The Gospel and Virtue Ethics
I don’t want to imply that only Christians may be virtuous leaders. Certainly, we can all think of Christians we know who have not acted virtuously and those of other non-Christian commitments who do act virtuously.
I do want to emphasize that the Christian gospel provides a powerful answer to the question of how one becomes a virtuous person/leader.
At the heart of Easter is the gospel. The gospel centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross, remembered in the heart of Holy Week, is at the center of the Christian faith. Jesus died on a cross to pay the penalty for sinful people and to restore wholeness to our broken world. Those who trust in Jesus’ work on their behalf are offered forgiveness for their sins and are welcomed into both God’s family and God’s mission of restoring and healing a broken world. At Easter, we celebrate not only Jesus’ death, but also his being raised to life three days later to demonstrate His power over sin and death.
So How Does this Relate to Virtue-Based Leadership?
The gospel is not about good, moral, or virtuous people offering themselves to God. The gospel is about sinful, immoral, and broken people being made new by Christ’s work in their lives.
We can never be good enough, moral enough, or righteous enough to make ourselves right before God. Only God’s work in us by the gospel can do that.
What does this mean for a Christian approach to virtue ethics?
Rather than seeking to be virtuous in order to make ourselves right before God, in the gospel we yield to the God who is able to make us right before him.
The gospel does not lower the ethical bar. The gospel does not say that sin and unethical leader behavior doesn’t matter. Rather, the gospel gives us a pathway for changing us from the inside out. The gospel gives us a hopeful path on which we can start to see change. The gospel gives us a credible answer to the question of how one may become a virtuous person/leader.
The answer is not in our own virtuous behavior, but rather in looking to the God of Easter who is able to do in us what we are not able to do ourselves.