Temperance & Fortitude
The Two Most Important Qualities of a Leader – Temperance and Fortitude
Leadership is somewhat of a buzz word in the workplace. Often, it is automatically conferred onto the person of highest rank, even if they lack the leadership qualities to deserve the title.
So what qualities make an individual a good leader? I would like to make a case for temperance and fortitude.
These two qualities balance each other and help ensure that a team will make it through the good and bad times. Temperance and fortitude have stood the test of time and they have led our nation to success in spite of failures.
Fortitude is what leads people to accomplish seemingly insurmountable goals. My father was a space pioneer and spent his adult life at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as a design engineer, then manager of the design section for unmanned spacecraft. He often told stories about our country’s race against the USSR to fly the first satellite. We lost. Sputnik achieved orbit in October 1957, months before the U.S. was able to launch Explorer 1 in January 1958. Then came the race to put the first man in space. We lost. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth on April 12, 1961, beating out U.S. astronaut Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight less than one month later. Finally, a U.S. victory on February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glen flew the Friendship 7 orbiting the Earth three times before splashing down in the Pacific.
All these programs were high risk, high payoff, and fraught with a high number of failures; some minor, many major, and as you know, several catastrophic. Just the geo-physical challenge of launching an object into space and successfully intercepting some target millions of miles away was and is a remarkable feat. Such successes and failures paved the way to landing the first man on the moon. These pioneers worked in an environment that recognized failure as an essential element to success and had the fortitude to never allow themselves the emotional respite to quit!
A good leader must guard against the extremes, thus the virtue of temperance: avoiding the chase after a pretty, shiny object, that attracts your eye and compels you to pursue. Without temperance, the leader is perceived as directionless, easily distracted, undisciplined, and on the heels of fecklessness. Vision, mission, and strategy are a temperate leader’s roadmap through the business cycle extremes and the barricade to the chase for shiny objects that look so compelling.
Temperance allows good leaders to discern opportunities. John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural address given on January 21, 1962 is a tome on temperance. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
Our country was at the height of the Cold War and President Kennedy was challenged in an arms race with the Soviet Union. Talking in a steady voice, he assured the world that America is a force to be reckoned with while encouraging international unity and the propping up of the impoverished. It was his temperate call to action challenging not only our nation’s peoples, but the world at large, to do what is right for the greater good of mankind.
Leadership in the Workplace
I advocate for good leadership in the workplace. Maybe you’ve heard me say it before, I elucidate ways to inspire your team, not necessarily how to employ your resources most efficiently or effectively. My twenty-six years of military service and fifteen years of executive work have taught me that our efforts for success must go beyond allocating funds and restructuring resources. We have to inspire and ignite people.