In a Sicilian hospital, the career of one of the most capable Allied generals nearly came to a premature end. General George s. Patton slapped a soldier because Patton considered the man to be a coward. It was an act of imprudence and poor judgment. Had the General discovered all the facts, considered them and weighed the consequences, doubtless he would not have slapped the man.
But impulsiveness cannot coexist with prudence.
4 things prudence is NOT:
- Prudence is not indecision. Indeed it is the opposite.
- Prudence is not cowardice. They may at times look alike but they are not.
- Prudence is not procrastination. Delay can be a trap, ask General George MacLellan, the Civil War Union army commander who President Lincoln replaced because he could not make a decision to fight and kept waiting for more troops, better weather, more whatever before taking action.
- Prudence is not leading from behind (which is not leading at all). One cannot lead from the rear. One may guide and advise from the rear, but to lead means to be in front and to take the risk of being out in front of everyone else.
So then, what is prudence:
Prudence – considering and responding to the consequences of actions taken or not take along the way to achieving one’s goals and objectives and fulfilling the vision.
1. Prudence is taking intelligent risks. It may seem crazy to some but it should never be considered foolhardy. One may make quick decisions to take advantage of an opportunity without being impulsive. Experience teaches you how and when to do so.
2. Prudence is making smart choices. A superlative leader knows very well that all choices have consequences so they do two things. They weigh those consequences BEFORE making the decision or taking the action and they prepare to handle the consequences.
3. Prudence is strength of character made manifest. It is the visible evidence of a person of experience who has learned along the way.
4. Prudence learns from failure but does not punish for it, either oneself or others.
Prudence does these 5 things for the superlative leader.
- Prudence enables a person to lead from the base of strength of their own character and not have to rely mainly on the office and position of power they occupy. Their authority comes from who they are as a person manifest in the decisions they make and the values they hold not from the title they bear.
- Prudence enhances and sharpens our ability to make good decisions, to possess sound judgment. Because of a forward and comprehensive focus, prudent leaders are never fuzzy about what they intend to do and how they intend to do it. They are purpose driven and values based.
- Prudence enriches our ability to stay on course, to avoid following distractions, and pursuing actions that yield only short-term benefit. Options are many and often. Knowing what not to do can be as important as knowing what to do.
- Prudence tempers impulses that color one’s image. Leadership is, in a large part, a matter of optics. It does matter how things look to others. If Rome is burning, effective leaders do not fiddle away. I am not being political when I point out that it just looked bad when the President went immediately to the golf course after spending just a very few minutes talking about atrocities in the Middle East, namely the barbaric beheading of a journalist. Prudence considers how that affects one’s ability to influence, how others would perceive it and tempers actions accordingly. Ask George Patton about this one.
- Prudence energizes the execution of justice. It is fairness and equanimity that mark a prudent leader, one who deals the same with everyone.
Superlative leaders are well-grounded, solid and reliable, tempered and tested. And they recover. Patton went on to become one of the most valuable and capable field commanders in military history.
Aristotle named prudence among the four cardinal virtues. Indeed, it is the one virtue that evens out our performance, tempers our impulses, and anchors our position as a leader.