Friday, February 1, 2013

Lean Quote: Ben Franklin’s 12 Virtues Provide Lessons in Leadership

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"There can be no happiness but in a virtuous and self-approving conduct." — Benjamin Franklin


When it comes to leadership, competencies determine what a person can do. Commitment determines what they want to do, and character determines what they will do. Character is foundational for effective decision-making. 

Character is not a light switch that can be turned on and off. Character is not something that you have or don’t have.  All of us have character, but the key is the depth of development of each facet of character that enables us to lead in a holistic way. 

“Virtues" are attitudes, dispositions, or character traits that enable us to be and to act in ways that develop excellence or dedication to the common good. They enable us to pursue the ideals we have adopted. Virtues are like behavioral habits – something that is exhibited fairly consistently. It is these virtues that define the character of an organization.

Recently I found out that Benjamin Franklin, through extensive study of the world’s major religions and various moral codes, came up with a list of thirteen main virtues that he felt every person should strive to live their life by.  As such, he himself attempted to always live by this code and developed charts with which he charted his progress from day to day, to make sure that he was constantly improving towards this end.

He would start with one of the virtues and plot his progress on the chart until he mastered that virtue; then moving on to the next; and so on until he mastered them all.  He ordered them specifically as shown below, as some of them naturally lend towards others.  Thus by sticking to this order, he felt it made it easier to achieve the whole.

This code is as follows:

Temperance: Eat not to Dullness, drink not to elevation

Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation

Order: Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time

Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

Frugality: Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste Nothing

Industry: Lose no Time. Be always employ’d in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions

Sincerity: Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak; speak accordingly.

Justice: Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.

Moderation: Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Cleanliness: Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes, or Habitation

Tranquility: Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.

Chastity: Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.

Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Benjamin Franklin had a goal of Moral Perfection. Even though he never reached that goal, Franklin believed the endeavor for perfection made him a happier, more successful person. Franklin discovered that this habit was the key to success.

The virtues outlined by Benjamin Franklin provide lessons in leadership and ethics that all business leaders can use to transform their organization and themselves. They represent the fundamental qualities of outstanding leaders, and are a guideline for success.

My experience is that a renewed focus on character sparks the best in people and fuels them in their personal journeys to become better leaders.  I see the process of learning to lead as a journey that enables people to bring the best of themselves to support and enable others, ensure that the organizations they work with perform at the highest level, and in doing so, contribute to the society in which they operate. 


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