Claire Bennett

The Claire Bennett Agency



The virtue of good leadership

From international best–selling books and packed conference halls to sold out TED talks and viral snappy YouTube clips, leadership is a highly discussed, broadly researched and relevant interest to all businesses seeking to grow. While the topic is hot, the interest and application to a wide variety of methods often heeds insignificant or with ineffective action. For University of Tasmania Lecturer Dr Toby Newstead, getting to the bottom of successful change in leadership practice and understanding what drives this has been the focus of her research. She wants to help leaders around the world bring positive change to the workplace.

With a career spanning over a decade in leadership development, working as a consultant to many companies, Newstead recognized a need for concrete answers behind leadership practice recommendations. Seeking answers that could be backed by scientific research, Newstead began her PhD at the University of Tasmania, specifically looking at the Canadian based and grassroots program, The Virtues Project, which had never been assessed for its potential as a leadership development program.  

The Virtues Project

Founded by a child psychiatrist, a philosopher, and a Disney Imaginist in the early 90’s, The Virtues Project is an internationally recognised character–based development program used to create meaningful recognition by identifying behavior through virtues that create the human character. The comprehensive list of human virtues is long and holds great range with examples including integrity, gratitude, patience and empathy. Initially developed to be used in schools to help teach character to children, the program expanded on its foundational concepts and is now used in over one hundred countries and in businesses world–wide.

The use of this program in businesses to develop future leaders and build leadership practices in existing leaders is where Newstead’s studies took aim. Noticing the disconnect between the communities that we desire and the workplace that we have, Newstead sought to understand how we can foster a meaningful human connection in the workplace using The Virtues Project as a tool for leaders.

“I’ve always had this desire to better understand how to develop good leaders. The Virtues Project was something that I was very familiar with, but I wanted to conceptually and empirically evaluate the program to see if it stood up.”

Important findings to benefit business

Engaging nine Tasmanian business leaders to take part in her study, Newstead lead the leaders through two days of The Virtues Project training, interviewing each executive before, immediately following the training, and then a third time several months after the training. Newstead also interviewed the leader’s peers, superiors, and subordinates to assess changes they had noted in the leaders.

Following the study, the results found that not only did the leaders feel like they became stronger after receiving this training, but the subordinates also reported a shift, especially noting a shift in listening skills, and a heightened sense of care and companionship.

“When leaders made real changes and improvements, it came back to them as a person. Good leadership starts with being a good person and the aim of this work is to cultivate that goodness and develop untapped virtues to make a leader even stronger.” 

“The findings from this study are hugely beneficial for leaders everywhere – across Tasmania, Australia and the rest of the world. The amazing part of The Virtues Project is that it can be applied in all industries and all countries, surpassing socioeconomic, cultural or geographic boundaries.”