Virtues, something a person lives by and bases their decisions off of, and values, the ideas that support the virtues of a person, are the basics of how a person will lead. No same leader is going to go about in their lives in the same way as another leader will, but it is wise to have guidelines to help along the way. The values and virtues of Aristotle set a solid foundation for leaders and how a person should go about their lives when they are in a position of power. Machiavelli, Xenaphon, Erasmus, and Confucius all have their ideas on how to lead. While they do not mach up with Aristotle completely they do share similar beliefs in different areas. It is important to note that each idea of leadership, the values and virtues of a leader, are effective to a certain point and will only go as far as how well the leader balances their actions. This is the core belief that Aristotle has in how to be the most effective leader possible and how to achieve the greatest about of good, happiness, and excellence.
Machiavelli is the type of leader who chooses to lead through extremes. Some of values that he has are leading with fear and always being ready for war. Machiavelli believes that it is better to be feared than to be loved because it is important to be in control of the people that one is leading (Machiavelli, 46). With this Machiavelli is trying to get is people to make listen and follow what he says. By implementing fear in his followers, Machiavelli will never have to worry about his people going against him because they know what consequences they will face when caught. Always being ready for war is extremely important for Machiavelli and that a leader should always be thinking about war whether times are good or times are bad (Machiavelli, 41). This provides a sense of power to the leader because by being aware of the surroundings and knowing how to fight, this will prevent enemies from attacking and cause them to be cautious when dealing with this person. This leader will always be on top because if a war does breakout they will be ready and if not then no one will be willing to start a war with them. Machiavelli’s aims are on the extremist side when it comes to his values.
The values that were spoken of, of Machiavelli support his overall virtue that he tries to lead with. This virtue that he believes is most important is power. Power, will a person far when they are in a position of leadership. Good leadership is to Machiavelli is having power of the people, land, and enemies. Having power gives the leader the capabilities of making decisions that may not necessarily be what the people want but what is best for the leader (Machiavelli, 48). The fear that a leader may put into their people may harm them but will also help them in that their people will know that they will protect them when it is necessary. This is important because Machiavelli also believes that a leader should never lose the people’s trust (Machiavelli, 30). All in all, Aristotle would describe Machiavelli as very indulgent because he does not find moderation in his most important virtue, which is power. Machiavelli’s need for power does not hit the mark for moderation and it is also quite apparent that his intentions were not meant to hit that mark in the first place.
Xenaphon was a very different leader, or described leadership, in a very different way and had very different values that what Machiavelli believed. The values that Xenaphon thought were important in a leader were putting followers first and leading by example. As a leader, it is important to know the names of all the names of the people that one is leading (Xenaphon, 159). Xenaphon thought this to be vital in his description of leadership because without knowing the people that a leader is leading how are their people suppose to honor them if they do not even do the simplest of tasks for them such as knowing their names. This all goes under the aim of honor and giving honor to gain honor. Leading by example is especially key as well because a person, or follower, cannot be expected to honor their leader when their leader does not follow the commands and laws set out for their own people (Xenaphon, 235). Of course, some leaders may think that they above the law when it comes to how they live their lives, but is important to understand that the people of a leader act according to how their leader acts. A leader must follow their own laws and own commands and treat themselves just like their follows in order to gain honor from their people. These two values are crucial when it comes to leading according to Xenaphon.
The key virtue that Xenaphon believes in and is thought by him to be one of the most important virtues to have when leading is honor. Good leadership cannot occur when honor is not present by either the leader to their people or the people to their leader. Honoring others in a position of power will help that leader in gaining popularity and implementing trust in their followers. Without this virtue a leader will only be despised and considered to be an unworthy person of their position. Aristotle would view this type of leadership as indulgent just as Machiavelli is indulgent in his need for power yet in a different kind of way. The indulgence that Xenaphon portrays is not nearly as extreme as Machiavelli’s. The task of memorizing every followers name could be a haunting task depending on the number of followers a leader may have. Yes, it is important for a leader to make sure they honor their people but there are more effective ways to do this than by memorizing every followers name. Aristotle would suggest to limit the time spent in memorization of names and focus on more important things.
The view that Erasmus has with values is one that is very unique when it comes to leadership and is important to understand when going into a leadership position. Two important values that Erasmus has in his leadership style are self-discipline and limiting flatterers. Through self-discipline it is imperative to be sure to limit one’s self in all things. Through ever decision that is made a leader must look back and make sure that the choice that was made is the choice that was the correct one and to judge what was done by them (Erasmus, 33). Through this a leader is able to limit themselves to what they are capable of. Erasmus puts this as one of his values because he wants to make sure that the leader is not too far above everyone else and that there is a balance in the hierarchy. A leader must avoid flatterers. First of all, not all flatters may be telling the truth and may be trying to corrupt the leader in some way or trying to gain something, but more importantly a leader should avoid flatterers because a leader must not corrupt themselves (Erasmus, 59). The compliments that one may give to a leader or person in power may go to that leaders head and they may become too prideful. When a leader receives a compliment they must look at it and analyze it to think of how that relates to them and their position. Also, if they are given a title they must take that title not in a prideful way but for motivation to try and achieve that title through the actions that they take. These are the values that Erasmus has and thinks are crucial to his type of leadership.
The virtue that Erasmus has and deems as one of the most paramount virtues that a leader must have involves the idea that a leader must balance themselves with themselves and with their people. This virtue is equality. Erasmus believes that a leader, yes should have their power and should be able to rule but they need to understanding that in God’s eyes they are equal to everyone one of their followers and that they need to understand that they are no better than their followers just more fortunate that their were chosen to be put into that position. “The prince must strive along with other Christians if he hopes for rewards just as great. You too take your cross, or else Christ will not acknowledge you,” (Erasmus, 19). A leader is nowhere guaranteed greatness in the eyes of God just through their title. Aristotle would view this as insensitive, the opposite side of the spectrum as indulgent, through the lens of lack of separation between the leader and their followers. Aristotle does believe that a leader should have friends and that good people are the only ones that can truly experience friendship but that does not mean that a friendship cannot thrive when the two people are not equal (Aristotle, 123). Erasmus’ aim for equality may not line up with what Aristotle says exactly but are pretty similar in some senses.
The values that Confucius has are brought out through trust in people and their leader. These values are honoring ones word and honesty. As a leader it is important to honor the commitments stated when working with followers so that the faith they have stored up in their leader is not lost. It is equally important for followers to honor their word as well because this will make it easier for the leader to trust their followers and be able to make decisions about their people without hesitation (Confucius, 91). By keeping good on promises that one has made it allows parties, followers and leader, to be able to trust each other and have a solid relationship with one another. Without being able to follow through with what one promises it does not allow the opposite party to function properly in the relationship because of the lack of trust. Honesty is just as vital as one honoring their word in that without honesty it allows for a gap in the relationship (Confucius, 106). Also, honesty is such a huge deal with followers allowing their leader to make decisions for them and for leaders giving responsibility to their people. Without any honesty nothing could get done through the followers and leader. These are only two of the values that Confucius finds meaningful in a leader.
While honoring ones word and honesty are the values that Confucius finds necessary in a leader, the virtue that they connect to is momentous. This virtue is trust and without it there would be no such thing as a leader. First off, trust in a leader and trust in followers is key to achieving anything. Honesty and trust go hand in hand without either of them the other could not exist because they are dependant on each other. Aristotle would say that this is close to the center of the moderation. Aristotle would agree to a certain degree with what Confucius is saying about trust. The belief of Aristotle that happiness is the highest good attainable would not be able to occur if there was not trust in the people to their leader and vise versa (Aristotle, 3). Confucius’ virtue of trust is extremely vital when it comes to leadership.
Overall, there are many things that I want to take from each other and implement them into my life not only as a leader but also as a person in general. When reading through Erasmus I found that I really enjoyed reading his ideas on the structure of leadership and how as leaders we are representations of God. The entire structure of leadership is supposed to be based on what how God is and what Jesus did when he was on earth. This directly connects to my life in that I am a leader who is a Christian and by implementing this in my leadership it allows for me to show others Christ through my good choices and representation of God. From Aristotle, the issue of insensitivity, moderation, and indulgence is something that all leaders should study. There are times when too much of something that may be good really is not what is best in a leading a group of people or lack of law in a leader will not gain the respect they need from their followers. With moderation, no choice can go wrong according to Aristotle. One belief that I have that is similar to Machiavelli’s belief is that I do believe that being a good leader requires having a foundation of good character. While I do believe this I would also agree that a good leader is capable of having poor character qualities in times that require such things. A leader should have a good character but in order to be effective they must be bad inside of them. I believe this because God let sin enter the world and while all of us are not perfect by any means I believe that God intended for leaders to follow his way, but go astray at times to learn from those experiences.
Machiavelli has very solid arguments in why a leader should lead with fear in his followers, but I believe that there are better ways to lead than to lead in such a harsh light. I do agree that there should be fear one’s followers but not as much as Machiavelli believes. Too much fear will cause followers to believe that you are a tyrant and that is not how a good leader will prosper. Another belief that I do not agree with is Xenaphon’s belief in positive thinking. While I do believe that positive thinking is an important part of someone’s thought process I do not agree that it should always be done. There are instances when it is better off to expect the worst or think negatively. In these cases when the worst is expected and something better happens then the consequences do not seem as bad as they would be if one were expecting positive things to become out of the situation.
In order to be a good leader a person must not only look into following one of these authors but it is important that all authors are called upon and are accounted for when leading. A leader should take different ideas, values, and virtues from each other and combine them together to create their leadership model. None of these authors have the correct formula for what a perfect leader looks like and I would argue that even taking the best ideas from each author would still not create that perfect formula because I do not believe that there is such a thing. I believe that in order to be a good leader one must have the values and virtues from each author but also have the capacity to change their style of leadership with each group of people, task, and situation that is presented to them. Leadership is not set in stone by any means and as time changes the different forms of leadership that are best fit for that time change as well. A great leader who lived in the sixteen hundreds may not be able to have the same leadership style today and still be considered a great leader. It is important to take the values and virtues from past leaders and create a modern leadership style that will work for the world that we live in today.
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Martin Ostwald. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1999.
Erasmus. The Education of a Christian Prince. Edited by Lisa Jardine. N.p.: University Press, Cambridge , 2006.
Confucius. The Analects of Confucius. Translated by Arthur Waley. New York: Random House, 1938.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Translated by Robert M. Adams. New York: Norton and Company, 1992.
Xenophon. The Education of a Christian Prince. Translated by Wayne Ambler. Ithica and London: Cornell University Press, 2001.