Faux Fights and Leadership [UPDATED]

Since so many essayists and commenters are interested in the activities and consequences of people espousing ideology of false patriotism, dominionism, fundamentalism and other -isms, I thought I’d play with the principles a bit and explore what can be done to counteract the effects.

The framework of a preferred paradigm that I’m using is that of embracing the classic Roman virtues. Don’t remember them?  You’re not alone.

While there are many systems and classifications of virtues, I am going to refer solely to the Roman-defined virtues to avoid an overly lengthy and needlessly complicated presentation.  However, as far as I have been able to ascertain, any well-defined listing of socioculturally significant virtues is applicable to the following relationship of using virtues as a criteria by which to evaluate leadership attributes.

A caveat for those of you who aren’t familiar with my posts:  I am very dyslexic, myopic, and arthritic.  I re-read my posts and most often continue to edit them for wrong words, poor grammar and unclear sentences after I post. I appreciate it when readers point out errors, and I do my best to make posts works-in-progress which reflect commenters’ participation and contributions.

There are many scholarly texts which outline characteristics of cults and attributes of members. This isn’t a post to regurgitate or criticize those foundational works. I include them here to distinguish between genuine leadership and subliminal and detrimental group influence which morphs into group-speak, propaganda, social behavior norms and voter behavior.

Essentially, the things that most people look to cults to fill are factors of socialization:

  • Clear rules of membership
  • Delineation of US and OTHERS
  • Reward system for compliance
  • Punishment and threat of shunning/ostracism for noncompliance
  • Clear normative values

This post originally was going to compare the attributes of cults with today’s two major political parties in how they court voters, but I’m now going to hijack my own essay and speak to leadership values. Keep the attributes of cults handy in looking at attributes NOT to reward, enable or use in selecting political candidates.

My own education and academic career – what little of it there is – revolves around the study of leadership, albeit confined to that in healthcare settings.

I am going to generalize some of the qualities to that of the concept of leadership per se.  Your mileage will vary, so please take away what is useful, and save the rest as bird cage liner or fodder to ponder another day.

I come at leadership characteristics and qualities from a pragmatic point of view.  If a leader can only lead in the abstract sense, then I don’t tend to find it useful.

Some of the characteristics of effective leaders – those who are able to affect the targeted and desired changes with the least amount of resistance or impediment, are those who demonstrate the following:

Consistency:  they don’t act in unpredictable and surprising ways, unless that is their usual mode of operation.

Congruency:  they act according to the values they espouse, and the target behaviors they set for others

Visibility and Accessibility or MBWA:  the old management by walking around style is always in evidence.  They seek out members of the group they lead – either all of them or representative samples.  They listen, they ask questions, depending on the work, they may try it, they solicit feedback, and they communicate in accessible face to face venues.

Honesty and Transparency: they deliver progress reports which include negative information.  They deliver news accurately, in context and comprehensively.

Reward desired behaviors liberally:  there is a little cognitive psychology in evidence.  Behaviors, acts and benchmarks that move toward the desired targets are praised, rewarded and highlighted.  Negative behavior and active resistance is ignored.

Value contributions:  they actively seek out and pay attention to the contributions of their team members/constituents/followers

Own Failures and Limitations/Give Away Successes:  they take full responsibility for failures and setbacks, and they give full credit to others for successes.

External appearances are deceiving:  they rarely present self-conscious fashionable or glamorous appearances.  They tend to be the work horses in organizations.  They show up, listen, take note, contribute to the success of the organization, and they work diligently by placing the success of the organization ahead of their own personal gain.

It’s this last that is being lost in the US.  Those people now are often shunted aside for the younger/wealthier-appearing/smoother-talking/connected person.  And it’s showing in the treatment of workers, in the quality of work overall, and in the falling behind in competition of US centered businesses.

What’s the point?

You can use these qualities to rate the presidential candidates for leadership attributes and likely leadership in the White House. You can use them to evaluate candidates for any position of responsibility and leadership. You can use them to work on your own progress as a leader.

If you used a Likert scale of 0 = does not exhibit, 3 = sometimes exhibits, and 5 = consistently exhibits to measure each of the candidates, who takes top honors?

Apply the criteria to Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, etc. See any patterns emerging?

One ready reference that uses many of these characteristics is Jim Collins in his work, Good to Great.

One concept that he emphasizes is getting the core values right.  What are they?

In the case of the office of president of the US, they are simple: supporting and defending the Constitution. It’s critical that you can say what the core values are of any activity that is important to you: work, school, hobby, elected representative, civic group, social group, entertainment, spirituality, commerce, etc. When you do something, “just because” or you allow yourself to make an uninformed choice, you run much higher risks – whether it’s in something small, as in the flavor of your coffee, or something huge, as in the course of cancer treatment or whether or not to choose resuscitation in the case of your heart stopping. And if it isn’t already obvious, it also applies to group choices, as in the selection of a president – for a country or for a local parent teachers association.


If you don’t know what qualities are important to you for a given situation, you cannot choose a leader who emulates and supports those values, even when the leader is yourself.

Take Aways

To evaluate any candidate for leadership, use the following criteria to rate on a scale from never exhibits to consistently exhibits:

  • Consistency
  • Congruency
  • Visibility and Accessibility
  • Honestly and Transparency
  • Reward desired behaviors liberally
  • Value Contributions
  • Own failures and limitations
  • Share/Give away successes
  • Outward appearances are deceiving

Use the criteria in your individual lives.  Evaluate people by these leadership characteristics in all situations other than crises. (Crisis management calls for very different skill sets used for very short term purposes – say, for example, evacuating everyone in immediate danger from a fire.) Use them to select your candidate of choice at the voting booth. Use them to help move the progressive values system forward.  Use them to highlight the failures and limitations of the current occupants of the White House.

And now back to my original post – about using the classic virtues to fight against fighting faux values that the Republicans espouse: the definition of marriage, the criminalization of women’s health choices, the criminalization of everything that fringe dominionist fundamentalists oppose, etc. When you use the attributes of genuine leadership, the faux issues are exposed as being flase to fundamental values and virtues.  They don’t have applicability or relevance.  You can use a classification of virtues by which to evaluate the importance and relevance of a political party’s espoused values. 

For example, family values can be defined as those which support the growth, development of its members and which support the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Where a platform or an agenda item interferes with these fundamental attributes for constituents, it fails the test of relevance, genuineness and necessity. And that’s the public message – the sole message – which progressives can use to defeat the propaganda of the right wing machine.

It fails the test.

Gay marriage bans fails the test of equal right.

Abortion limits fail the test of individual health choices and the recognition of the professional and confidential nature of the physician patient relationship.

Sanctions on anyone based on a sexual orientation or gender orientation fails the test of equal opportunity and equal rights.

And so on.  Once a clear barometer of acceptability and failure is established and used consistently, the progressive agenda will be easier to establish, will be a clear territory claim, and will be easier to advance as well as to defend.

Pre-emptive war and aggression fails the test (OK Armando and other experts, take it from here).

It passes the test.

Place the progressive agenda items here. TBD, as academics love to proclaim.

Classical virtues

First a definition from The Free Dictionary:

1. cardinal virtue – one of the seven preeminent virtues
virtue – a particular moral excellence
natural virtue – (scholasticism) one of the four virtues (prudence, justice,  fortitude, and temperance) derived from nature
supernatural virtue, theological virtue – according to Christian ethics: one of the three virtues (faith, hope, and charity) created by God to round out the natural virtues


  •   Auctoritas – “Spiritual Authority” – The sense of one’s social standing, built  up  through experience, Pietas, and Industria.
  •   Comitas – “Humour” – Ease of manner, courtesy, openness, and friendliness.
  •   Clementia – “Mercy” – Mildness and gentleness.
  •   Dignitas – “Dignity” – A sense of self-worth, personal pride.
  •   Firmitas – “Tenacity” – Strength of mind, the ability to stick to one’s purpose.
  •   Frugalitas – “Frugalness” – Economy and simplicity of style, without being miserly.
  •   Gravitas – “Gravity” – A sense of the importance of the matter at hand, responsibility and earnestness.
  •   Honestas – “Respectability” – The image that one presents as a respectable member of society.
  •   Humanitas – “Humanity” – Refinement, civilization, learning, and being cultured.
  •   Industria – “Industriousness” – Hard work.
  •   Pietas – “Dutifulness” – More than religious piety; a respect for the natural order socially, politically, and religiously. Includes the ideas of patriotism and devotion to others.
  •   Prudentia – “Prudence” – Foresight, wisdom, and personal discretion.
  •   Salubritas – “Wholesomeness” – Health and cleanliness.
  •   Severitas – “Sternness” – Gravity, self-control.
  •   Veritas – “Truthfulness” – Honesty in dealing with others.

Notice, though, that this is merely a listing of classic Roman virtues.

There are many other notable systems of prescribed and proscribed virtues. But for utility, I am limiting the discussion to these, as many are referenced in the qualities and characteristics of leadership above.

If we as a society used this framework of preferred or desired characteristics by which to measure our elected representatives, the congruence of legislation with the Constitution, and used the classic virtues to measure the overall “meta” success of US society, would this not be more useful than continuing on the current path of divisiveness, class separation, socioeconomic disparity and faux morality being used as a disguise to install theocracy in government?


Skip to comment form

  1. At first I thought you were talking about blog feuds…

    On a serious note, I’m not sure that our society, in its current form, is capable of recognizing good leadership. It seems that the US is collectively suffering from shell-shock from 9-11, and is looking for a “father” figure. Except, invariably, the “father” figure being sought espouses none of the virtues that I would consider appropriate in a real father.

    Until people are comfortable with themselves, they will never be comfortable owning their failures or acknowledging the contributions of others in their successes. The US population, whether by design or convenient coincidence, is inundated with imagery and marketing telling them that they shouldn’t be happy as themselves. The uber-wealthy are so much happier. The beautiful people are so much happier. The world-class athletes are so much happier. And undoubtedly, happiness means you’re a better person.

    I think the key is counteracting such destructive forces. Of course, I have absolutely no idea how to do that. But, I also think that we have to first diagnose the problem before we can address it.

    BTW – I’m very glad you stayed.

  2. Consider this:  can you identify an instance when you had good leadership?  Doesn’t have to be limited to the conventional places, such as work, church, etc.  Has anyone ever “stepped up to the plate”, or did you find yourself being able to act freely and “get the jobb done”?  Most likely, that took place when an effective leader or leaders were present.

    Think about what they did and didn’t do – how they engaged with you and other, what messages they sent – and what messages they didn’t.

    Most people act “better” in the presence of good leadership.  Better can be defined as freer, faster, more productive, more comfortable, more likely to take appropriate risks, more likely to support team members, greater ability to do one’s job/role without barriers, more effective, more efficient, more satisfied, more goal-focused, etc.

  3. With the criteria of leadership I thought of people like Cheney, Rove and Delay as having scored the most negatives on that scale, and yet they have been/were extremely effective leaders in that they have been able to get the results they wanted for the most part.

    Then I thought about how the Democratic leaders, Reid and Pelosi, and those running for President fit within those criteria. They all score higher in varying degrees but they are all much less effective in getting desired results, or it seems that way to me.

    Perhaps it is what Pickle suggests, that in general the American society is not looking for normal leadership based on those criteria and the classical virtues. Instead they are looking for the alternate kind of leader, the Crisis management leader, hence the popularity of someone like Giuliani.

    Americans have been so effectively herded like sheep into fear mode on the one hand and thoroughly distracted by bullshit entertainment on the other that they don’t even know what non crisis leadership is anymore. Yet, I believe everyone subconciously desires it.

    Much to think about. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

  4. Somewhere along the way, our concept of the purpose of governance changed to where supporting the principles our country was founded on, our constitution and the bill of rights for starters, became almost a hindrance  to our body politic. The strain of individualism which runs throughout our history and culture turned entitlement and competition  and aggression into our virtues. Collectivism, has become a bad, bad thing. National security  has come to mean protecting our stuff, or getting other peoples stuff. Our ‘way of life’ is scared and anything that stands in the way is a threat. I think we have past the point culturally, that the Roman’s did when any real  civic virtue was a liability to the ruling class, who ruled only for greed and power.

    Management style, and leadership in a democracy only works if profit be it power or money is not the only agenda. Bernie Sanders a politician I admire really depressed me when on a TV show, talking about the war, and environmental issues he said that we could not expect people to change these lifestyles as this was the American dream we had been promised. He also said that powerful interests limited change. So even if you have good leaders who fit your list, if their agenda has no base other then keeping in place, a corrupted broken system what good does it do. 

  5. Common sense stuff to live by where leadership and what constituutes useful leadership and affective leadership is concerned.

  6. the corporate model of short term profit with no other goal but the market, is unsustainable. My worry is that our society is so caught up in it’s entitlements that it no longer sees government, or public services such as health care, even education as having any other goal other then profit or productivity in service of profit. Don’t virtues have to part of the citizenry as well as the leaders? When resources dwindle will people then become interested in the Common good or just take to protecting their perceived interests or blaming the convienant other.

    My husband who is in market research just completed a study which shocked me. It was on healthcare for an advocacy nonprofit group. The part that was a shocker, when asked if they were willing to pay for a plan that included spreading the cost to cover others who were poor they all said no! As a society we have totally lost the concept of common good. 

  7. but I wonder what you mean by “abstract” leadership, for which you say you have no use.  I would think abstract leadership is a contradiction in terms and therefor something of a strawman.

    I’m wondering also what is the source for your list of “classic Roman virtues.” 

Comments have been disabled.