History, Culture, And Leadership

If you haven’t done so, look at the previous blog entry on culture and leadership. You’ll see that this is a new activity of mine for a client. I’d like to add a point from history here.

The group we know as the “Founding Fathers” (George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and so on) were very concerned with culture. They believed that a foundational part of self-government depended on the culture of the people who sought to govern themselves. These Founders asserted that a particular culture was necessary in order for self-government to work.

They aspired to a republican culture, a culture of virtue. Looking back over history they saw that the best examples of self-government came from these cultures. A culture of virtue included a willingness to sacrifice, an understanding of delayed gratification, and a view of decision-making that encompassed both the long run and the general good.

You can certainly show that these attitudes weren’t prevalent in the private and quasi-private lives of several Founders. Jefferson, to name one, was a lifelong slaveholder who actively ignored the morality of his slaveholding system. However, my point isn’t to compare public and private behavior but simply to note that they recognized the value of culture in organizing government and in shifting from design to execution in this organizational work.

They knew that culture mattered, and mattered a great deal.

The Founders would want you to think about: what is your culture?