Got Greatness?

Detail of Maid of Orléans by Jan Matejko (1886)
Rhetoric matters. So do our lives.

Did you know that you are created for greatness?

My friends at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., want to make sure you do. They’ve established an MBA program in virtuous leadership (as well as immersion opportunities and certification) in the hopes of reminding people not just who they are created to be but also what are the habits that could transform the dreariness of a humanity seemingly drowning in a quagmire of loneliness, despair, and fear.

To do so, they have teamed up with Alexandre Havard, a barrister from France, who founded an institute on virtuous leadership. Now based in Moscow, he trains people — business executives and university students — in virtue.

Havard presents “An Agenda for Personal Excellence,” which begins with the principle that leadership needs to be rooted in the virtues. “Virtue is a habit of the mind, the will, and the heart, which allows us to achieve personal excellence and effectiveness.” Leadership is intrinsically linked to virtue. Why? Because “virtue creates trust,” which Havard calls the “sine qua non of leadership.” And “because virtue . . . is a dynamic force that enhances the leader’s capacity to act. Virtue allows the leader to do what people expect of him.”

Havard explains in his book Virtuous Leadership: “It was my happy lot to be born to and raised by people of exceptional virtue. That may sound corny to people of modern sensibility, but it’s true. I refer to family members, beginning with my excellent parents and their parents — immigrants to France from the Soviet Union. They were people of heart who lived magnanimity, humility, prudence, courage, self-control, and justice as naturally as they breathed.”

He points to Joan of Arc, whose martyrdom came because the people around her had lost focus; they couldn’t see light when it was right in front of them, on trial. Havard quotes Canadian poet and singer Leonard Cohen, who wrote of Joan at the stake: “I saw the glory in her eye.” Then he quotes Joan: “Help yourself and God will help you.” Both parts count there. As Havard puts it: “She trusted fully in God, and fully in herself.” I think that is the key to the frustration you see in the New York Daily News headline reacting to the calls for prayer after the San Bernardino massacre. The News declared: “God isn’t fixing this.” Blood is shed and prayer is important, but so are our efforts.

And our efforts can’t be confined to policy. We have to give our lives to the work of reformation, restoration, reparation, renewal. We need to see human life as the tremendous, incomparable gift that it is, and help other people see that. “Modern society needs men and women who believe in man,” Havard writes.

This is not empty self-esteem. This is being aware of your own shortcomings, weaknesses, and mistakes, and having the humility to seek that which is above, to see man as more than of this world. If man sees life as a gift, says Havard, he will start seeing his own life-giving potential. He will want to create, not destroy. “He must also be aware of his own talents, and learn to rely on them and have recourse to all human means.”

Beware, of course, of vanity. That’s “false greatness,” Havard writes.

Man, as Havard puts it, ‘is incapable of understanding himself by reason alone. He does not know who he is. Faith is essential.’

Instead, he says, to truly “recognize one’s dignity and personal greatness is not just an act of magnanimity, it’s also an act of humility.” This essential aspect of a virtuous life and leadership “brings us closer to the truth about ourselves” — namely, that “Man in himself is pure nothingness.” A person who sees himself as made in the image of God “understands that he is not just a material being but also a spiritual one. He can understand this through reason — through his rational intelligence and free will.”

But in a world that has stopped making sense to a lot of people, our lack of faith is exposed. Man, as Havard puts it, “is incapable of understanding himself by reason alone. He does not know who he is. Faith is essential.”

About magnanimity, Havard writes in his book Created for Greatness:

He who is magnanimous and humble magnanimously assesses his talents and abilities and judges himself worthy of great things, which he undertakes with confidence; at the same time he humbly perceives his status as a creature and understands that his capacities and his virtues, even those acquitted by his personal efforts, are ultimately gifts from God and can only increase the strength of his hope.

He adds the observation that “Many Christians believe in God, but few believe in themselves, in their talents and capabilities.” Thinking this way is not the recipe for virtuous leadership; instead, it constitutes a “self-castration . . . in the history of humanity.”

#share#In recent days, there have been multiple accusations, and much talk about rhetoric needing to be toned down. When Pope Francis talks about the need for a revolution in tenderness, he’s not being unrealistic, but exactly the opposite. It’s “realism inspired by formidable hope,” as Clara Lejeune has explained the life of her father, Jérôme Lejeune, the French geneticist who discovered the genetic defect that causes Down syndrome. He was stalwartly opposed to abortion, seeing it not just as morally objectionable but also as “an assault against and expression of contempt for science,” as Havard puts it. Decision-making must be “imbued with prudence, but [this] is no guarantee of success.”

When considering Pope Francis’s tenderness, one might refer to a quote from philosopher Josef Pieper that Havard cites: “The prudent man does not expect certainty where it cannot exist, nor on the other hand does he deceive himself by false certainties.”

The Daily News — and “any prayer shamers” (a new phrase we’ve seen in recent days, referring to the backlash against “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of terrorism and violence) — be cautioned.

And believers, believe! Let it be seen.

Rhetoric matters. So does the way we live our lives. The best practices in the world won’t truly matter if they are not authentic.

“Magnanimity is the thirst to lead a full and intense life; humility is the thirst to love and sacrifice for others,” writes Havard.  These things together give life. This combination is light. See how we need it? Take the courses — which are available on the University of Mary campus, on satellite campuses, and online — get the immersion, read the books. Lead, already. This is what we need in times such as these.


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