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Lyceum speech
May 3, 2003


Speech / Texas Lyceum Association
On The Nature of Leadership

Printable Version

Niccolo Machiavelli noted that half of life is controlled by fate, the other half you can control. If you carried his thought further to leverage your controlled half to its fullest extent, you need to combine the efforts of others. To see that it is most effectively directed to your goals, you must lead with a focused purpose.

Leadership has been examined and defined in many ways throughout history. However, a synthesis of the most appropriate approaches probably would look at its two clear divisions – tactical leadership (what you do and how well you do it), and value-based leadership (why you do it). Tactical leadership is really more effective organization. The style of approach of Sun Tzu and Von Clauswitz would best be described as to organize tactics and systemic organization. The military is a good comparison. In 1986 Congress changed the structure of the American military from a chain of command that moved from the Defense Secretary to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and down to their individual organizations, to the Head of the Central Command. These commands had members of all of the forces working jointly, not independently. This culture of easy interaction made it far more effective than the old structure. This type of leadership is a lot like the physical sciences with natural rules of building power. It can often be accomplished in a variety of ways for totally different purposes, and that is where value-based leadership comes in. A Hitler or a Stalin could be looked upon as a strong leader under tactical leadership alone because they achieved power and control. How they would be viewed in value-based leadership might be quite different.

I would divide the true groups of thought in a tactical / value-based leadership combination into the realists and the idealists. Machiavelli in his book, The Prince, looked at men as being inherently evil. Thomas Hobbs had a similar perspective. Both understood the more Republican principles and goals and contributed to their development, but they both saw the weakness in men and often reflected this recognition in their tactical strategy. To them you had to understand evil even to do good. In the East, The Science of the Thick and the Black (thick skin – black heart) shows that the concept is universal. This is the group that I would call the realists who look at and use the weakness of men. The other group, the idealists, would include Christ and Aristotle in the West, Confucius and Lao Tze in the East. They believed that men could become enlightened and sought to bring out the best in men.They looked to developing man’s strength. So their leadership was more value-based.

It is important to understand that leadership’s two parts – (1) what you do / how well you do it and (2) why you do it – are quite connected. Chess is much like basic checkers except there are different pieces with more moves. Adding the value-based component to tactical leadership is much the same. Sun Tzu looked upon the level of commitment of his men and the opponent as a major part of his “the way” which was one of the most critical aspects of strategy. America’s troops in Iraq have been often characterized by the media as successful because of technology and resources. I would venture that those familiar with military culture would give a far higher component to the value of the commitment of the forces. While Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War in the East, Alexander was the West’s first unique lord. He was tutored by Aristotle and looked beyond battle tactics to the time of year, the supplier of the land and the broad aspects of supply in a war. There were refined tactics, but he also gave men a vision of why the battle was important, not to him, but according to what they valued.

The problem is that value-based leadership can have two types of values – conscience (a concern for others) and convenience (the concern for self or a limited few). Leaders of conscience usually look to taking actions for the benefit of others; they tend to be willing to sacrifice for a greater good. Convenience is driven by ambition, self-interest, vanity, and similar desires. All leaders always have these factors battling within them. The practicality of staying leaders usually bends the best of men on occasion. To not be a hypocrite and to be truly successful in being a decisive leader, usually one style dominates. Those that choose convenience often use Machiavelli’s very effective principles or look to its organizational equivalent, Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. (The Prince tells the rich how to stay in power while the Rules for Radicals tells the poor how to take power.) They both look carefully at the nature of men and how they make decisions.

The leaders of convenience have an advantage on leaders of conscience in that the latter have self-imposed restrictions on their actions because they seek a different longer-term goal beyond short-term gratification. Good character is the choice of conscience over convenience and is implemented by personal responsibility. Leaders of conscience look to ideas, usually value-based systems of principles, more than ideologies which change more easily. Their strength comes from their ability to make alliances on these principles and leverage their joint strength. Men of convenience often lose allies as a result of their shorter-term tactics. Leaders of conscience have an advantage of a stronger “way” or commitment if they can organize it properly.

The key to which dominates in a time period is found in the culture of that time. Conscience often dominates on an individual level; convenience almost always dominates at the higher levels of power due to ambition, competition, self-interest, and similar factors. The only way for conscience to get into power is for it to be convenient because the nature of the culture values conscience.

There is the risk that men of conscience take when they too freely use the power tools of men of convenience. They create a culture where convenience brings success and power, not necessarily conscience. It is the culture of the nation that lets it be free. The government should do only those things that people do not settle among themselves. If they have a value-based culture, it lets the Golden Rule and the common good settle most problems by the people working together eventually in nonprofit organizations. That is where conscience-based leadership is often developed and provides the strength of the middle class both economically and morally.You have to develop leaders that recognize these issues and understand the lessons of history.

Conscience versus convenience is not a battle of angels and devils, but of small acts that are more easily rationalized. A leader for conscience needs to realize he seeks to build a culture of character to provide him the ultimate environment in which to operate. If the environment is a culture of convenience, then he must change to survive. If his goal is the future and concern for family, for others and for the positive advancement of civilization, then he must lead with a vision recognizing that people are seldom for or against you, but are for themselves. If you show that the common good and the Golden Rule are most protective of them and their most valued all inclusive asset, their personal dignity, then you will find the most powerful “way” to lead, not by appealing to their weakness but their strength.

Some thoughts to help guide you in remembering might be the following that was attributed to Abraham Lincoln (although others disagree) but certainly contributed to his philosophy:

         “You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging
         thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by
        weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage
        earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot
        further the brotherhood of many by encouraging
        class hatred. You cannot help the poor by destroying
        the rich. You cannot establish sound security on
        borrowed money. You cannot keep out of trouble by
        spending more than you earn. You cannot
        build character and courage by taking away a man’s
        initiative and independence. You cannot help men
        permanently by doing for them what they could and
        should do for themselves.”

Another quote by Gandhi is simpler, but equally powerful:

        “I do not understand how someone can elevate
        himself by suppressing or denigrating another.”

Understanding these ideas help define the broader concepts of value-based, conscience-driven leadership at an individual level. However, you must also argue the vision of the future and why value systems matter as a goal and an environment if you are to be a leader that advances civilization.

To that end, I would leave you these thoughts of history on why a culture of conscience matters:

A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. The essential cause of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic desperatism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars... Rome was not destroyed by Christianity, anymore than by barbarian invasion; it was an empty shell when Christianity arose to influence and invasion came.

Will and Ariel Durant
Caesar and Christ (1944) Page 665

The more perfect civilization is, the less occasion has it for government, because the more does it regulate its own affairs, and govern itself... all the great laws of society are laws of nature.
    Thomas Paine
    The Rights of Man (1792)

I fully subscribe to the judgment of those writers who maintain that of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense of conscience is by far the most important.... It is the most noble of all of the attributes of man.
    Charles (Robert) Darwin
    The Descent of Man 1871, Chapter 4

From Bondage to Spiritual Faith
From Spiritual Faith to Great Courage
From Courage to Liberty
From Liberty to Abundance
From Abundance to Selfishness
From Selfishness to Complacency
From Complacency to Apathy
From Apathy to Dependence
From Dependence back to Bondage.
Sir Alex Fraser Tyler
Scottish Historian, circa 1787
On Athens and Cycles of Democracies

The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

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