Once, a friend of ours popped in for a cup of tea and told us that he had just finished building a raised flower bed for Peter L Dixon, the scriptwriter for Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons. Now not only was I a tad jealous of my friend having such a cool story but I also was amazed at the happenstance as on the kitchen side was LHOP Series 3 rented from the local library.
We rented the series for our daughters Bo and Lulu as (with a slight smile on my face) I reckoned by watching it you could expose a child to every human virtue that ever existed. We watched the episodes as a family, and in a low key way, we would discuss things such as how important it was that the Ingalls looked out for each other but also others in need.
As life doesn't come with a guidebook, it can be a great thing to look at virtues to guide you. We choose virtues to focus on rather than values as virtues are universal and are a commonality across all cultures. People develop their own values which may be different from yours. When designing educational experiences, we like to bring in virtues. This applies to a business leadership workshop just as much as a school environmental programme. From our own experiences, we know that virtues provide a rudder in stormy seas. The important thing is not to wait for those rough seas before you test them out! That's why virtues play into the hands of education designers. We get the chance to provide opportunities to practice, prepare and simulate. There is nothing we offer in our services that we don't try and live ourselves. That's important to us and that includes virtues.
Once a week with Bo and Lulu, we would choose a virtue such as kindness, tolerance or confidence. We would talk about what that virtue looks like in real-life examples. Once everyone had a firm grasp of the virtue, one of the children would write it on a piece of A4 and it would go on the fridge. During the coming week, we would all lookout for examples of this virtue that we had seen in ourselves or others. They loved this exercise and couldn't wait to tell us when they had spotted the virtue. All these examples were added to the piece of paper on the fridge and we would talk about them at the end of the week.
Some beautiful teachable moments arise with such events as your 5 year old apologising to her sister for ripping up her drawing would comment. "I said sorry, that's kindness, isn't it dad?" "Well.....erm....."
The idea for running these family virtue meetings came from 'The Family Virtues Guide' by Linda Kavelin Popov. Their project was honoured by the United Nations and the World Conference of Cities as a global model for families of all cultures. We recommend it highly to give you the baseline to adapt to your own situation.
When we set up our business virtues became the backbone. After teaching thousands of young people, it becomes very clear that without upholding virtues, the environment to flourish cannot exist. It is not about strict rules; it's about encouraging and praising virtuous acts when you see them. This could be recognising a child's patience and self-discipline as they battle with cutting out a pattern from cardboard, or it could be generosity as a child shares their pen. You don't have to make a big deal out of it. In a light and fun tone just make sure others can hear when you say "that's generous of you William to share your pencils with Sally". William feels good, Sally feels happy, and anyone in the vicinity understands what it means to be generous.
This also applies to business, maybe even more so. We designed a leadership course for new managers, and we dedicated a whole section to giving feedback around virtues. Feedback in business is often sterile and therefore lacks the original purpose to promote growth. Virtues are required for real growth. Yes, you can stake shortcuts and make some short term gains, but in the long term, you suffer. Why, because your rudder is not so intact as it was. As a leader, your followers will see that. On every leadership course, I always start with the fact that leadership is one of the hardest areas of life and business because it requires you to do the right thing for your people, your business, your customers but not always you.
I use the rudder analogy a lot, and it comes from a famous proverb. "He who won't be ruled by the rudder must be ruled by the rock". Think of virtues as the rudder that steers your boat. On calm sunny days, you may not need to use that rudder. But when the wind gets up and the sea gets choppy your rudder keeps you on the right course. Now, we may never make it to the virtuous standards of the Ingalls family! But rest assured it will improve your relationships with your family, your employees and will certainly help with tackling life's stormy seas.