Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Organizational and Leadership Virtues and the Role of Forgiveness

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Organizational and Leadership Virtues and the Role of Forgiveness

Article excerpt

The investigation of virtues in organizational life has been neglected. Systematic studies of the development and demonstration of virtue have been all but absent in the organizational sciences. This article highlights the potential impact of virtues in organizations, particularly the power of forgiveness to affect individual and collective outcomes. Under conditions of organizational injury and trauma, such as when organizations downsize, leaders have an especially important role to play in demonstrating virtuous behaviors. In this paper, we describe some early research findings that explore the effects of organizational virtues, and we highlight the role of one particularly misunderstood virtue--organizational forgiveness--and its role in the leadership of effective organizations.


A few researchers have recently begun to investigate dynamics in organizations that lead to the development of human strength, resiliency, and extraordinary performance. The focus of this work centers on life-giving, elevating elements in organizations that have heretofore been ignored by organizational scholars. It is a focus on positive organizational scholarship (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, in press). This emphasis parallels the new positive psychology movement that has shifted from the traditional emphasis on illness and pathology toward a focus on human strengths and virtues (Seligman, 2000). The consideration of issues such as joy, happiness, hope, faith, and what makes life worth living represents a shift from reparative psychology to a psychology of positive experience (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

   "[Positive] psychology is not just the study of disease, weakness, and 
   damage; it is also the study of strength and virtue. Treatment is not just 
   fixing what is wrong; it is also building what is right. [It] is not just 
   about illness or health; it is about work, education, insight, love, 
   growth, and play" (Seligman, 2000:8). 

Consistent with this new movement, a group of organizational scholars has begun to investigate the positive side of organizational processes and performance, including how individuals in organizations, as well as the organizations themselves, become exceptional and virtuous. Our intent in this paper is to help clarify this new orientation in organizational studies and to consider one specific example of organizational virtue in some detail.


Traditionally, social scientists have treated "deviance" as a negative aberration from normal or acceptable behavior. Deviants are seen as requiring treatment or correction (Durkheim, 1938; Becker, 1963). The idea of positive deviance has largely been ignored as a phenomenon for investigation (Starbuck, 2001; Pondy, 1979). Yet, positive deviance, in the form of virtuousness, captures some of humanity's highest aspirations. Virtue, in the Aristotelian sense, is an attribute that leads to eudaimonia, a flourishing state exceeding normal happiness and excellence (Aristotle, 1106a22-23). It is more akin to ecstasy while demonstrating the highest form of humanity.

In the original Greek, virtue (arete) is applied to both individuals and organizations in recognition of the fact that virtue can be demonstrated at the individual or the collective level (Schudt, 2000). The idea that virtues can be applied to organizations in addition to individuals is sometimes controversial, yet the collective nature of virtue is easily illustrated by the studies of virtues in family units. Virtuousness in family units have been studied and categorized, so it should not be surprising that the study of virtuousness in larger organizations would also be a legitimate and worthwhile endeavor (Sandage & Hill, 2001; Walsh, 1998; Stinnett, DeFrain, & DeFrain, 1997; McCubbin, Thompson, Thompson, & Fromer, 1998). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.