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Why Should I Teach Positive Leadership?

There are many answers to the question of why an instructor might want to teach positive leadership. Here we give a short list of reasons, as well as links that lead to further information about each answer.

  • Positive leadership empowers people. If positive leadership begins when a person exhibits virtues with more excellence than she would have exhibited if she had conformed to convention, then anyone has the potential to initiate leadership, even if they hold no formal leadership position.
  • Positive leadership promotes well-being and meaningful lives. There can be no positive leadership unless people are exhibiting virtues, and the effort to exhibit virtues may be the most fruitful way in which people can experience meaningfulness, well-being, and happiness in their lives. Scholars have observed this since Aristotle and find empirical evidence of this in the research of positive psychologists.
  • Teaching positive leadership promotes practical moral development. Again, practicing virtues is necessary for positive leadership, and it is also necessary for developing moral character. Thus, if you teach positive leadership, you necessarily help your students’ moral development.
  • Positive leadership is a form of conversational ethics that never stops seeking more ethical outcomes. Even if students think they have exhibited exceptional virtue, others may disagree. Positive leadership requires people to seek to understand and, when appropriate, incorporate others’ perspectives on the ethics of a situation into their actions. The practice of considering others’ ethical opinions and adapting one’s own actions is a form of conversational ethics in which there are always opportunities to learn and become more ethical. Positive leadership requires leaders to engage others before judging their opinions and behaviors.
  • Positive leadership inspires better behavior. When you require students to learn about and practice exceptional leadership, not only does your teaching elicit more virtuous behavior from your students, it also tends to inspire people who observe your students to engage in more virtuous behavior as well.
  • Positive leadership requires leaders to celebrate agency in their followers. If leadership is a relational process in which followers choose to follow because they feel other-praising emotions such as inspiration, elevation, admiration, or gratitude, and not because of a manager’s authority or power, then the best leaders will be those who not only seek to exhibit exceptional virtue, but also those who think about the people around them: What might inspire, elevate, or uplift those people without controlling them? Followers are not objects to these leaders, but agents unto themselves who are respected for their dignity and humanity.
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