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Culture of Service


Leadership and the Culture of Service

Perspective: Culture May 20, 2003

Printable Version

Leadership is defined in many ways, but it generally falls into two divisions. I have always looked upon it as being divisible into tactical leadership, which is really composed of what you do and how well you do it, and value-based leadership, which is why you do it. A good friend, Jim Windham, the editor and publisher of the Texas Pilgrim takes the approach from James McGregor Burns’ 1978 book, Leadership wherein Burns identifies two basic types of leadership. He defines the most common type as being transactional leadership that is one where there is an exchange of one thing for another between the leader and followers. The other type of leadership that Burns discusses is transformational leadership that employs vision and a sense of the needs, motives, and anxieties of those of would be followers. It is a unique type of leadership because it can convert followers into leaders and looks much more to a commitment to the building of consensus on critical issues. It is moral leadership very similar to what I refer to as value-based leadership.

When you talk of a culture of service and the desire and necessity to help others by looking beyond oneself the essence of conscience over convenience then value-based leadership or transformational leadership becomes particularly important. Tactical or transactional leadership is much more the daily organization or exchange of favors that does not necessarily look to a higher purpose. The culture of service requires people to think carefully about their obligations to others in society and to recognize that concepts such as the Golden Rule and the common good have to be applied throughout society for the individual to receive the positive effects of an environment of conscience. The important thing about the culture of service is that it is developed in large part by nonprofit organizations that allow people to join together to accomplish these more visionary goals for the right reasons. It is this network of nonprofits the Chambers of Commerce, the Rotaries, the Lions Clubs, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the American Red Cross, and innumerable types and varieties of organizations that also build the leadership that is of a transformational or value based nature. Most people of conscience are not pride driven and tend to be conservative and by their nature are seldom either showy or overtly ambitious personally. As a result, there has to be a development incubator that lets them learn leadership in so they can see the responsibilities that must be undertaken to develop the proper environment. That is where the nonprofits are so important in a free society such as America. Any government eventually settles those issues that the people themselves do not settle through their own mechanisms of their culture. It is a strong culture that sets great peer pressure and creates an environment that shapes activity. If there is a strong culture of law and liberty that the people implement through their vote and participation in the judicial system, then the government involvement in many areas of society is limited. If the people as a whole abrogate their responsibilities on key issues at the cultural level of participation, then the government inevitably fills in the vacuum.

Culture thus determines the eventual level of government by the amount of individual responsibility that is taken on by the citizens. If the citizens do those things through charities and thereby do not require the government to be as expansively involved, they set the relationship between the people and the government differently than do societies that abrogate all responsibilities to the government. The key issue is individual responsibility. It is brought forth through nonprofit organizations that serve as the base and infrastructure of American culture, but the leadership that is developed must increasingly be the transformational or valued-based style in order to keep the nature of the nonprofit organizations from becoming merely transactional or tactical organizations. Emphasizing why you take the actions that you take and building the levels of support that keep organizations active is even more critical now than ever before. Each generation only knows what its parents pass on to it and what it perceives from its environment. In a time of anti-heroes and a concentration on the individual rather than on society, it is truly a time that the nature of leadership becomes an increasing focus to the next generation. We are developing many transactional political leaders, but far too few of the transitional visionary leaders that understand how the complex world operates and where they must focus to truly make a difference.

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