Virtues, anchored in the ancient and robust philosophy of virtue ethics, inform and enable good leadership. However, we are reticent to speak of virtues within the business domain, which hinders virtues-based leadership development. To demonstrate how virtues inform good leadership, albeit usually implicitly, I analyze 25 TED talks promised to make viewers ‘better’ leaders for direct and indirect reference to virtues. My findings illustrate that virtues are implicitly woven throughout popular leadership discourse, but that they are rarely stated explicitly. This is a problem because to develop virtues they need to be explicitly understood and consciously practiced, which necessitates redressing the reticence to speak of virtues and focusing efforts on educating, training, and developing the virtues that enable good leadership. This article advances virtues-based leadership development by proffering a framework of higher-order virtues that we need to make explicit in efforts to develop good leadership. My discussion of the higher-order virtues integrates evidence from the TED talks and extant scholarship and proposes ways to train and develop each virtue.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Virtue (singular) implies a unified essence or internal inclination, whereas virtues (plural) refer to discrete behaviors and dispositions.
TED viewership and history accessed January 2020 from: https://www.ted.com.
Alvesson, M. (2017). Waiting for godot: Eight major problems in the odd field of leadership studies. Leadership, 15(1), 27–43.
Annas, J. (2012) Being virtuous and doing the right thing In R. Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Ethical Theory: An Anthology John Wiley & Sons Inc
Antonakis, J. (2017). On doing better science: From thrill of discovery to policy implications. The Leadership Quarterly, 28, 5–12.
Antonakis, J., Fenley, M., & Liechti, S. U. E. (2011). Can charisma be taught? Tests of two interventions. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(3), 374–396.
Aristotle. (350BCE/1962). Nicomachean Ethics (M. Ostwald, Trans.): Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall
Arjoon, S. (2008). Reconciling situational social psychology with virtue ethics. International Journal of Management Reviews, 10(3), 221–243. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2370.2007.00216.x
Avolio, B. J., & Gardner, W. L. (2005). Authentic leadership development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(3), 315–338. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2005.03.001
Bass, B. M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics, 18(3), 19–31.
Bauman, D. (2017). The drive to virtue: A virtue ethics account of leadership motivation. In A. J. G. Sison, G. R. Beabout, & I. Ferrero (Eds.), Handbook of Virtue Ethics in Business and Management (pp. 961–971). Springer.
Bell, E., Panayiotou, A., & Sayers, J. (2019). Reading the TED talk genre: Contradictions and pedagogical pleasures in spreading ideas about management. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 18(4), 547–563. https://doi.org/10.5465/amle.2017.0323
Brown, M. E., & Mitchell, M. S. (2010). Ethical and unethical leadership: Exploring new avenues for future research. Business Ethics Quarterly, 20(4), 583–616.
Cameron, K. (2011). Responsible leadership as virtuous leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 98, 25–35.
Ciulla, J. B. (2004) Ethics and leadership effectiveness In J. Antonakis, A. T. Cianciolo, & R. J. Sternberg Eds, The nature of leadership Thousand Oaks, California SAGE pp. 302–327
Ciulla, J. B. (1995). Leadership ethics: Mapping the territory. Business Ethics Quarterly, 5(1), 5–28.
Ciulla, J. B. (2017). Leadership, virtue, and morality in the miniature. In A. J. G. Sison, G. R. Beabout, & I. Ferrero (Eds.), Handbook of Virtue Ethics in Business and Management (pp. 941–949). Springer.
Collins, J. C. (2001) Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve. Harvard Business Review, Best of HBR, 136–146
Collinson, D., & Tourish, D. (2015). Teaching leadership critically: New directions for leadership pedagogy. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 14(4), 576–594.
Comaford, C. (2018). 7 TED talks that will help you be a better leader. Forbes Online. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecomaford/2018/06/30/7-ted-talks-that-will-inspire-you-to-be-a-better-leader/?sh=7dd3b8e79e6a.
Conger JA and Church AH. (2018) The high potential's advantage: get noticed, impress your bosses, and become a top leader: Harvard Business Review Press
Crawford, J., Dawkins, S., Martin, A., & Lewis, G. (2019). Putting the leader back into authentic leadership: Reconceptualising and rethinking leaders. Australian Journal of Management Sage Publications Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1177/0312896219836460
Cropanzano, R., Bowen, D. E., & Gilliland, S. W. (2007). The management of organizational justice. Academy of Management Perspectives, 21(4), 34–48.
Crossan, M., Mazutis, D., Seijts, G., & Gandz, J. (2013a). Developing leadership character in business programs. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 12(2), 285–305. https://doi.org/10.5465/amle.2011.0024A
Crossan, M., Seijts, G., & Mazutis, D. (2013b). In search of virtue: The role of virtues, values and character srengths in ethical decision making. Journal of Business Ethics, 113, 567–581. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1680-8
Day, D., Bastardoz, N., Bisbey, T., et al. (2021). Unlocking human potential through leadership training and development initiatives. Behavioral Science & Policy, 7, 42–54.
De Cremer, D., van Dijke, M., & Bos, A. (2004). Distributive justice moderating the effects of self-sacrificial leadership. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 25(5), 466–475.
Dodge, J., Ospina, S. M., & Foldy, E. G. (2005). Integrating rigor and relevance in public administration scholarship: The contribution of narrative inquiry. Public Administration Review, 65(3), 286–300.
Edmondson, A. C., & Lei, Z. K. (2014). Psychological safety: The history, renaissance, and future of an interpersonal construct. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 1, 23–43. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091305
Eva, N., Robin, M., Sendjaya, S., van Dierendonck, D., & Liden, R. C. (2019). Servant leadership: A systematic review and call for future research. The Leadership Quarterly, 30(1), 111–132.
Fehr, R., Kai Chi, Y. A. M., & Dang, C. (2015). Moralized leadership: The construction and consequences of ethical leadership perceptions. Academy of Management Review, 40(2), 182–209. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2013.0358
Ferrero, I., & Sison, A. J. G. (2014). A quantitative analysis of authors, schools and themes in virtue ethics articles in business ethics and management journals (1980–2011). Business Ethics-a European Review, 23(4), 375–400. https://doi.org/10.1111/beer.12057
Fry, L. W. (2005). Editorial: Introduction to The Leadership Quarterly special issue: Toward a paradigm of spiritual leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(5), 619–622. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2005.07.001
Grant, A. M. (2012). Leading with meaning: Beneficiary contact, prosocial impact, and the performance effects of transformational leadership. Academy of Management Journal, 55(2), 458–476.
Grant, A. M., & Berry, J. (2011). The necessity of others is the mother of invention: Intrinsic and prosocial motivations, perspective taking, and creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 54(1), 73–96.
Greenleaf, R. K. (1973) The servant as leader. In: Center for Applied Studies Cambridge, Mass
Grint, K. (2007). Learning to lead: Can Aristotle help us find the road to wisdom? Leadership, 3(2), 231–246.
Hackett, R. D., & Wang, G. (2012). Virtues and leadership An integrating conceptual framework founded in Aristotelian and Confucian perspectives on virtues. Management Decision, 50(5), 868–899. https://doi.org/10.1108/00251741211227564
Hannah, S. T., Avolio, B. J., & Walumbw, F. O. (2011). Relationships between authentic leadership, moral courage, and ethical and pro-social behaviors. Business Ethics Quarterly, 21(4), 555–578.
Karakas, F. (2010). Spirituality and performance in organizations: A literature review. Journal of Business Ethics, 94(1), 89–106. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-009-0251-5
Kempster, S., & Jackson, B. (2020) Leadership for what, why, for whom and where? A responsibility perspective. Journal of Change Management, 1–21.
Kempster, S., Jackson, B., & Conroy, M. (2011). Leadership as purpose: Exploring the role of purpose in leadership practice. Leadership, 7(3), 317–334.
Koerner, M. M. (2014). Courage as identity work: Accounts of workplace courage. Academy of Management Journal, 57(1), 63–93.
Liu, H., & Baker, C. (2016). White Knights: Leadership as the heroicisation of whiteness. Leadership, 12(4), 420–448.
Liu, Z., Venkatesh, S., Murphy, S. E., & Riggio, R. E. (2020). Leader development across the lifespan: A dynamic experiences-grounded approach. The Leadership Quarterly. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2020.101382
MacIntyre, A. (1999) Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues: Open Court
Manz, K. P., Marx, R. D., Neal, J. A., & Manz, C. C. (2006). The language of virtues: Toward an inclusive approach for integrating spirituality in management education. Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion, 3(1/2), 104–125.
McKenna, B. (2016) Embodying a wise graduate disposition in business school education. In Gower (Ed), Wisdom Learning (pp. 57–77)
Moorman, R. H., Blakely, G. L., & Niehoff, B. P. (1998). Does perceived organizational support mediate the relationship between procedural justice and organizational citizenship behavior? Academy of Management Journal, 41(3), 351–357.
Newstead, T., Dawkins, S., Macklin, R., & Martin, A. (2019). We don’t need more leaders - we need more good leaders. The Leadership Quarterly. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2019.101312
Newstead, T., Dawkins, S., Macklin, R., & Martin, A. (2020). The Virtues Project: An approach to developing good leaders. Journal of Business Ethics, 167, 605–622. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04163-2
Newstead, T., Macklin, R., Dawkins, S., & Martin, A. (2018). What is virtue? Advancing the conceptualization of virtue to inform positive organizational inquiry. Academy of Management Perspectives, 32(4), 443–457. https://doi.org/10.5465/amp.2016.0162
Ng, V., & Tay, L. (2020). Lost in translation: The construct representation of character virtues. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(2), 309–326.
Oswick, C. (2009). Burgeoning workplace spirituality? A textual analysis of momentum and directions. Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion, 6(1), 15–25.
Owens, B. P., & Hekman, D. R. (2012). Modeling how to grow: An inductive examination of humble leader behaviors, contingencies, and outcomes. Academy of Management Journal, 55(4), 787–818. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2010.0441
Owens, B. P., & Hekman, D. R. (2016). How does leader humility influence team performance? Exploring the mechanisms of contagion and collective promotion focus. Academy of Management Journal, 59(3), 1088–1111.
Palanski, M., Cullen, K., Gentry, W. A., & Nichols, C. (2015). Virtuous leadership: Exploring the effects of leader courage and behavioral integrity on leader performance and image. Journal of Business Ethics, 132, 297–310. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-014-2317-2
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Character strengths in fifty-four nations and the fifty US states. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 118–129.
Pearce, C. L., & Conger, J. A. (2002) Shared leadership: Reframing the hows and whys of leadership: Sage
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification (p. 2004). American Psychological Association.
Rego, A., Sousa, F., Marques, C., & Cunha, M. P. (2012). Authentic leadership promoting employees’ psychological capital and creativity. Journal of Business Research, 65, 429–437. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2011.10.003
Riggio, R. E., Zhu, W., Reina, C., & Maroosis, J. A. (2010). Virtue-based measurement of ethical leadership: The Leadership Virtues Questionnaire. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 62(4), 235–250. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022286
Sadler-Smith, E., & Cojuharenco, I. (2020) Business schools and hubris: Cause or cure? Academy of Management Learning & Education(ja)
Schein, M. (2018) Author Simon Sinek is full of hot air (and other reasons you should follow his lead). Forbes
Schminke, M., Taylor, R., & Arnaud, A. (2015). Ethics, values, and organizational justice: Individuals, organizations, and beyond. Journal of Business Ethics, 130, 727–736. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-014-2251-3
Schwantes, M. (2017) 9 best TED talks to help you become a better leader
Shin, Y., Sung, S., Choi, J., & Kim, M. (2015). Top management ethical leadership and firm performance: Mediating role of ethical and procedural justice climate. Journal of Business Ethics, 129(1), 43–57.
Shotter, J., & Tsoukas, H. (2014). In search of phronesis: Leadership and the art of judgment. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 13(2), 224–243.
Sison, A. J. G., & Ferrero, I. (2015). How different is neo- Aristotelian virtue from positive organizational virtuousness? Business Ethics: A European Review, 24, S78–S98. https://doi.org/10.1111/beer.12099
Solomon, R. C. (1993). Ethics and excellence: Cooperation and integrity in business. Oxford University Press.
Solomon, R. C. (1999). A better way to think about business. Oxford University Press.
Tourish, D. (2015). Some announcements, reaffirming the critical ethos of Leadership, and what we look for in submissions. Leadership, 11(2), 135–141.
van Dierendonck, D. (2011). Servant leadership: A review and synthesis. Journal of Management, 37(4), 1228–1261.
Vasalou, S. (2012). Educating virtue as a mastery of language. Journal of Ethics, 16(1), 67–87. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10892-011-9111-5
Wang, G., & Hackett, R. D. (2015). Conceptualization and measurement of virtuous leadership: Doing well by doing good. Journal of Business Ethics, 137, 321–345.
No funding was received to assist with the preparation of this manuscript.
Conflict of interest
The author is the sole contributor to this article and has no financial or proprietary interest in any material discussed in this article.
Research Involved in Human and Animal Rights
This study did not involve human participants. The transcripts that were analysed were accessed from the publicly available TED.com website.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
TED Talks analyzed
Adam Grant—Are you a giver or a taker? TED@IBM, 2016. 6.84 million views, 38 languages. Recommended by Inc.com
Brené Brown – The power of vulnerability. TEDxHouston, 2010. 44.6 million views, 52 languages. Recommended by Inc.com, TED most popular talks
Charlene Li – Efficient leadership in the digital era. TED@IBM, 2014. 81, 991 views, 1 language. Recommended by: Forbes.com
Dan Ariely – What makes us feel good about our work? TEDxRiodelaPlata, 2012. 6.40 million views, 37 languages. Recommended by Forbes.com
Dan Pink – The puzzle of motivation. TEDGlobal, 2009. 24.8 million views, 44 languages. Recommended by Inc.om, TED most popular talks
David Logan – Tribal leadership. TEDxUSC, 2009. 1.67 million views, 25 languages. Recommended by TED leadership playlist
Derek Sivers – How to start a movement. TED, 2010. 8.44 million views, 65 languages. Recommended by TED leadership playlist
Drew Dudley – Everyday leadership. TEDxToronto, 2010 4.43 million views, 38 languages. Recommended by Inc.com, TED leadership playlist
Fileds Wicker-Murin – Learning from leadership’s missing manual. TEDSalon, London, 2009. 1.20 million views, 20 languages. Recommended by TED leadership playlist
Itay Talgam – Lead like the great conductors. TEDGlobal, 2009. 3.52 million views, 34 languages. Recommended by TED leadership playlist
Jacqueline Novogratz – Inspiring a life of immersion. TEDWomen, 2010. 990,442 views, 27 languages. Recommended by TED leadership playlist
John Clarkson – How should a CEO lead? Musical exploration. TED@BCG Berlin, 2014. No TED stats, 18, 000 views on YouTube, 0 transcripts. Recommended by Forbes.com
John Wooden – The difference between winning and succeeding. TED, 2001. 6.36 million views, 29 languages. Recommended by TED leadership playlist
Margaret Heffernan – Dare to disagree. TEDGlobal, 2012. 3.85 million views, 35 languages. Recommended by Inc.com, TED leadership playlist
Ricardo Semler – How to run a company with (almost) no rules, TEDGlobal, 2014. 3.14 million views, 30 languages. Recommended by Forbes.com
Rick Warren – A life of purpose, TED, 2006. 3.90 million views, 31 languages. Recommended by TED leadership playlist
Rosalinde Torres – What it takes to be a great leader, TED@BCG San Francisco, 2013. 5.05 million views, 35 languages. Recommended by Forbes.com, Inc.com
Shawn Achor – The happy secret to better work, TEDxBloomington, 2011. 21 million views, 48 languages. Recommended by Forbes.com, Inc.com, TED most popular talks
Sheryl Sandberg – Why we have too few women leaders, TEDWomen, 2010. 9.79 million views, 46 languages. Recommended by TED
Sheryl Sandberg + Pat Mitchell – So we leaned in, how what? TEDWomen, 2013. 2.66 million, 29 languages. Recommended by TED
Simon Sinek – How great leaders inspire action, TEDxPuget Sound, 2009. 47.4 million views, 48 languages. Recommended by Inc.com, TED leadership playlist, TED most popular talks
Simon Sinek – Why good leaders make you feel safe. TED, 2014. 11.6 million views, 39 languages. Recommended by Forbes.com
Stanley Mcchrystal – Listen, learn, then lead. TED, 2011 2.97 million views, 33 languages. Recommended by Inc.com, TED leadership playlist
Susan Cain – The power of introverts. TED, 2012. 24.6 million views, 47 languages. Recommended by TED most popular talks
Tim Harford – Trial, error, and the god complex. TEDGlobal, 2011. 2.02 million views, 34 languages. Recommended by TED leadership playlist
About this article
Cite this article
Newstead, T. Being Explicit About Virtues: Analysing TED Talks and Integrating Scholarship to Advance Virtues-Based Leadership Development. J Bus Ethics (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-021-04966-2
- Leadership development
- Good leadership
- Virtues-based leadership