Essay on CSU Library Article: Bauman, D. C. (2018). Plato on Virtuous Leadership: An Ancient Model for Modern Business

Published: 2021/11/11
Number of words: 768

The article ‘Plato on virtuous leadership: An ancient model for modern business’, written by David Bauman and published by Business Ethics Quarterly in 2018, discusses the role of Plato’s virtuous leadership model on how leaders should pursue business ethics, and how Plato’s views have practical impacts on business ethics today. Bauman starts by elaborating on Plato’s views toward virtue and knowledge, and then describes three aspects of Plato’s model of virtuous leadership. (Bauman, 2018) Foremost, Bauman explains Plato’s three-part moral psychology, consisting of reason, desire and will. Secondly, Bauman discusses the four cardinal virtues, consisting of wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. (Bauman, 2018)

Finally, Bauman discusses a spectrum of five types of leaders. The most ideal leader, for Bauman, is the philosopher-king, who leads mainly out of wisdom. (Bauman, 2018) The other four types of leaders are less ideal, which consist of the timocrat who desires victory and honor, the oligarch who desires wealth, the democrat who desires freedom, and the tyrant who desires power and luxury. (Bauman, 2018) For Plato, and by extension Bauman, only a pursuit of wisdom can produce an ethical business leader, as the leader will act in the interest of the organization to build the ideal, virtuous organization. All other types of leadership, which are not founded on the essence of true ‘good’ virtue, make them ethically flawed. For example, in recent corporate governance scandals, Facebook’s scandal involving Russian interference in the 2016 American elections could have been avoided, had leaders Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg not acted like democrats who wanted open access for all (regardless of potential harms), or oligarchs who wanted to preserve the value of their stock price at all costs.

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Bauman then applies Plato’s model of virtuous leadership to the corporate sector, and advises on how the model can provide board members, executives and other corporate leaders with advice on how to lead in a virtuous and ethical way. For example, board members can be wise, courageous and just in prioritizing sustainability, even if it means reduced profits. Likewise, CEOs can adopt the philosopher-king mentality to pursue the long-term interest of the company over short-term wealth maximization, or their own corporate power and benefits.

The author’s main point is that an application of Plato’s views of virtuous leadership will enable business leaders to be more ethical in their decision making and leadership, and that Plato’s model has practical implications for business ethics. (Bauman, 2018) In doing so, Bauman focuses more on interrogating what true virtue is in business sectors, rather than using artificial tools such as corporate governance and regulatory compliance to enforce business ethics.

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The article contributes to contemporary thinking about business ethics by emphasizing self-discovery, reflection and development of the notion of true virtue in business leaders, rather than industry standards such as corporate governance and regulatory laws. (Stanwick et al, 2013) By doing so, Bauman revolutionizes the field of business ethics by compelling leaders to embody ethics in a transformative fashion, rather than simply complying with existing ethical norms. Bauman’s article is also relevant to my field of interest in marketing, as leaders in marketing are often confronted with ethical issues such as privacy in data collection, deceptive marketing tactics, predatory pricing and the marketing of harmful products. By adopting Plato’s model of virtuous leadership, marketing leaders will be able to think more clearly about how to consider business ethics in all aspects of their marketing campaigns, rather than taking a narrow view of regulatory compliance over issues such as marketing data privacy laws.

The article challenges the ethical view of this student as it presents a holistic, radical approach to virtuous leadership that goes beyond codes of compliance and corporate ethics programs. Previously, this student had considered business ethics as separate from personal ethics, and had held business ethics to a lower standard of compliance. However, Bauman’s article clearly shows that business leaders must decisively interrogate what ethical leadership in business means, in order to be effective ethical leaders.


Bauman, D. C. (2018). Plato on virtuous leadership: An ancient model for modern business. Business Ethics Quarterly28(3), 251-274.

Hartman, L. P., DesJardins, J. R., & MacDonald, C. (2008). Business ethics: Decision making for personal integrity and social responsibility. Burr Ridge, IL: McGraw-Hill.

Stanwick, P., & Stanwick, S. D. (2013). Understanding business ethics. Sage.

Takala, T. (1998). Plato on leadership. Journal of Business Ethics17(7), 785-798.

Whetstone, J. T. (2001). How virtue fits within business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics33(2), 101-114.

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