The Virtue Continuum


Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good and, thus, is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness.  Operating with virtue should be an objective of each of us.  It is especially important when dealing with team members, coworkers, customers, regulators… every situation is enhanced when parties deal with each other by displaying moral excellence.

A colleague once provided me with a copy of Jim Lanctot’s Virtue Continuum (see table below).  Lanctot is portraying virtue as a continuum with degrees more or less.  As we exhibit a deficiency of a specific virtuous trait, we see one extreme of behavior.  If we exhibit an excess of that specific virtue trait, we see a different extreme behavior.  For example from the table, when there is a deficiency of integrity, an individual trends toward corruption.  When integrity is taken to an extreme, a trend toward legalism is the result, according to Lanctot.

Though I don’t necessarily agree with all of Lanctot’s examples, the Virtue Continuum does provoke some interesting thoughts.  For example, I believe I can respect an individual infinitely without idolizing that individual.  But, I do agree that courage taken to an extreme can venture into foolhardiness.

Anyway, this is intended to illustrate: 1) that virtue is a desirable path, 2) the eight virtues listed by Lanctot, and 3) that specific virtue traits taken to extremes can become harmful.

How would the world be different if everyone practiced consistently the eight virtues listed by Lanctot? How would you neighborhood or company be different? How would your own life be different if you lived according to these virtues? Let’s take a quick look at these virtues:

  1. Integrity – When given a choice, each of us would rather work or live with an individual with integrity over one that lacks it. A person of integrity can be trusted, relied upon, and can serve as a role model. Integrity is what defines our character, reveals our heart, and determines our legacy.
  2. Discernment – Having the ability to determine right from wrong, good from bad, and desirable from undesirable is not uncommon. However, having the will to choose right, good, and desirable is completely different. Discerning, then choosing the correct path will often determine our fate in work, life, and love.
  3. Love – “The greatest of these is love…” Caring deeply for others and demonstrating that in your actions, words, and thoughts may determine the happiness, joy, and contentment you experience in life. Shifting your default from being judgmental to loving will change everything about your life.
  4. Respect – The person that holds and shares respect for others is a treasure that we should all seek. A respectful person cares about what others say, feel, believe, and do… and they show it.
  5. Humility – Having an accurate and appropriate measure of self-worth means you do not denigrate or uplift yourself more than is needed or reasonable. When we are humble, our eyes are opened to a new world that appreciates and serves others more than self.
  6. Diligence – Sticking to something to the end is a virtue often forgotten today. Seeing it through to the finish line should be our goal and life’s work.
  7. Temperance – Keeping our lives and actions in appropriate balance ensures that our life stays on track. Anything in excess can lead to problems that no one enjoys; living with regrets leaves us feeling incomplete.
  8. Courage – Taking a stand for what you believe helps define who we are and where we are headed. Being bold when needed, open when others are closed, and honest when it is discouraged can make the total difference to us and others.

Let’s learn from this continuum and seek to make life better for someone else today. Thanks for what you do to make this world a better place!  Have a “top ten” day!


Result when there is a DEFICIENCY in this virtue


Result when there is an EXCESS in this virtue

Corruption Integrity Legalism
Foolishness Discernment Judgmentalism
Selfishness Love Enablement
Disregard Respect Idolatry
Pride Humility Degradation
Slothfulness Diligence Workaholism
Licentiousness Temperance Strictness
Cowardess Courage Foolhardiness

(Character and Leadership: Situating Servant Leadership in A Proposed Virtues Framework that was co-authored by Jim Lanctot and Dr. Justin Irving)


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