James O’Toole surveys the works of Aristotle in Creating the Good Life, and creates a practical framework that can be used to evaluate leadership in our own time. This excerpt is from a section regarding community leadership:
Aristotle says a leader also needs practical wisdom. Practical wisdom has “nothing to do with calculating magnitudes,” nothing to do with science, theory, disciplinary knowledge, or knowledge of facts in any way. It is concerned “neither with eternal and unchangeable truth nor with anything and everything that comes into being (and passes away again). Instead, it deals with matters where doubt and deliberation are possible.” In particular, practical wisdom is not concerned with the way things are but with “how things can be other than they are.” In other words, it is about how conditions in society and organizations could be made better. And “it implies the use of one’s faculty of opinion in judging matters” relating to what is right and wrong for a group, or society as a whole.
In Aristotle’s eyes, such practical wisdom is the prerequisite of “moral excellence,” the sine qua non of leadership: “That is why we say Pericles and men like him have practical wisdom. They have the capacity to see what is good for themselves and for humankind.”
Aristotle concludes that virtuous leaders in the Periclean mold are rare, but their scarcity is not due to a shortage of leadership capacity in the human race. Instead, he believes the virtue manifested by those rare leaders is an acquired trait; he believes leaders are made, not born. Indeed they are self-made.
At all times, the conscious goal of a just leader is to help followers achieve what is good for them, which, on occasion, may be something different from what they think they want. Hence, in addition to effectiveness, leadership has a moral dimension: the capacity to discern and provide justice.
From Leadership Now