The Public Square holds there is a great need for the return of virtue as the defining quality in public service – and leading well.

In one year, we will choose the next President of the United States.   As the candidates struggle to win, voters are trying to understand how the contenders, themselves, are made up.

The act of creating appeal with voters and aligning with hopes of donors obscures who the candidates really are.  But to voters character matters over issues and style.  Issues change, and style may be captivating at first but soon pass from fashion.

The Debates help only a little.  In pressing their chances to inherit a culture of power, candidates too often blur their assets in their very talk.   They don’t answer questions, or they try and speak to every side.  And the very debate stage is confused with competing party brands vying among dominance.   Finally, those lacking in public trust are likely if they win to be maimed in office for their term.  This drags a nation down.

As we thank the presidential candidates for the rigor in sharing themselves in the debates, Thanksgiving may be good time to look at the deeper index of instincts forming good leaders.  Here are a few:

Good leaders know who they are.  They know their roots well, and have a great sense of home, of comfort with themselves, and of place.   Their goodwill, born of confidence, is contagious.

Good leaders often are tied to the land.  By nature, land fashions us less as consumers than citizens.  Washington was our Nation’s first farmer, Jefferson its first gardener, Lincoln born on the frontier, Franklin Roosevelt a tree farmer.   All put citizen goals for the Republic – first.

Good leaders somehow are never in a hurry.  They labor patiently for the future, and their purpose sustains them.  They face life as it is, not might be.  They separate strength from show.

Good leaders grow every day in life.  They don’t seek perfection in others, but they never cease searching for it in themselves.

Good leaders evolve.  They emerge, from within.  They grow into who they become, before they or we often know what they finally are.   They are mostly selfless, their influence in the end felt more than seen.    

Good leaders have a true sense of servant hood.   They rigorously avoid one of entitlement.  They perennially reach out to others to enlarge their lives and their work, counting this – the good they do – as their own.

Good leaders bring purpose, energy and reform to all they do.  But they never become captive of their own ideas.  They know life is part of a much larger arena for overcoming human adversity.

None of this is to sweep aside deep preparation for holding office.  Education in various circles of power, the limits of human nature, and the ideas, interests, institutions, and ideologies of the time, are critical tools in the art of governing.  A President must be Chief Executive, Chief of State, Commander-in-Chief, Chief Diplomat, and Chief of Party, among other roles, to be effective.

But more than preparations suit a leader for tasks of great responsibility.  Good leaders know the culture around them, but know when to resist it.  They don’t really use power, as much as deftly know how to assume it.  They see leadership as setting a tone, offering spacious direction, inspiring the public faith, uplifting the citizenry.

The root of true leadership is virtue, and virtue depends on character, and character depends on honor.  The American nation is built on honor.  Trust is the very sinew of democracy.  More than pitches and programs and benefits, we need a call to honor as a country.

Beneath the personalities and issues, let us call upon leaders who will nourish America’s self and nurture her soul, and know the balance of each, and how to help uplift both.   The Public Square believes virtue is the defining quality to isolate in the presidential choices in 2016.