The ‘Virtuous’ Professional: Personal Character Strengths across the Professions

‘Professional people are expected to do the right thing; and they are expected to do the right thing both for individuals – be they clients, customers, patients, pupils, victims of crime or enemy combatants – and for society at large.’ (Jubilee Centre, 2016)

 

The first stage of the Practical Wisdom and Professional Practice: Integration and Intervention project has been to assemble the collated data from the existing 5 Virtues in the Professions research projects into one coherent dataset. The five Jubilee Centre projects that have taken similar methodological approaches to considering the role of virtue and professional ethics in the training and practice of doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers and business and finance professionals have been published individually by the Centre over the course of the past four years (2014 – 2017). This new project aims to consolidate that data across all five professions (plus the forthcoming report Soldiers of Character), and draw insight into the self-reported character strengths that pre- and in-service professionals see themselves as possessing and in the strengths that make up the ‘ideal’ professional.

The collated dataset for the 5 professions being studied contains 3,565 participant responses to self-reported character strengths, the character strengths  of the perceived ‘ideal’ professional in each of the 5 professions studied, and responses to moral dilemmas in terms of types of reasoning (deontological, utilitarian or virtue-based). To begin with, and to report some interesting early findings, the research team have looked across the dataset at the top ranked, self-reported character strengths. These are presented below in Figure 1, and show a high level of consistency across the professions.

Figure 1: Top 6 ranked self-reported character strengths across whole dataset

Rank Character Strength
1 Honesty
2 Fairness
3 Teamwork
4 Humour
5 Kindness
6 Leadership

 

The moral virtue of honesty appeared consistently in the top 3 rankings across participants from all five professions, with kindness, another moral virtue, also regularly appearing in the top 3 rankings. Fairness, also considered a moral virtue as per the Jubilee Centre’s typology (see Jubilee Centre, 2017), was ranked in the top 6 personal character strengths in all five professions, and featured particularly highly (ranked 1st) with pre- and in-service teachers, as well as with three of the four cohorts of pre- and in-service lawyers (only experienced barristers ranked it as 3rd rather than 1st).

The performance virtues (see the Jubilee Centre, 2017) of teamwork and leadership were also ranked highly by participants across the professions, other than teaching, where participants regarded the character strength of creativity significantly more highly than the other four professions.  All professions also ranked humour as a ‘top 6’ character strength, with in-service teachers ranking humour particularly highly, as a cohort, and male pre- and in-service teachers when considering gender.

Whilst there was a general consensus on the self-reported character strengths across the professions, there was more discrepancy with the ‘bottom’ ranked strengths (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Bottom 6 ranked self-reported character strengths across whole dataset

Rank Character Strength
19 Self-regulation
20 Love of learning
21 Prudence
22 Appreciation of Beauty
23 Spirituality
24 Zest

 

An initial consideration of the bottom six strengths could come down to the character strengths of zest, prudence, self-regulation, for example, simply being less familiar to participants, or terms that participants were less confident defining.  Love of learning features in the bottom 6 self-reported strengths across all professions despite it being highly ranked by teachers. It was ranked highly by pre-service first- and final-year teachers, particularly female participants, but not considered so highly amongst the other four professions.

All participants were given the 24 character strengths that make up the VIA survey to select from. Whilst the make-up of the VIA survey does not map exactly onto the typology of virtue developed by the Jubilee Centre, there are sufficient similarities to draw initial conclusions and to pose questions for further investigation, which is where the Practical Wisdom and Professional Practice: Integration and Intervention project team seek to go next.

 

Aidan Thompson, Director of Strategy and Integration

Stephen Earl, Research Fellow

Joseph Ward, Research Associate

Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

 

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