Once there was a man whose Father quoted, “Knowledge is power, Francis Bacon.”
His son heard, “Knowledge is power, France is Bacon.”
The last part of the quote confused him. Why would France be bacon? What does that ridiculous assertion mean? What does France have to do with bacon? Is it a culture reference? Does bacon refer to something other than the breakfast meat? He puzzled over it. Over the next few years whenever someone quoted, “Knowledge is power,” he replied, “France is Bacon” in hopes that someone would clarify or give him some hint what was being referenced. But he had no luck. Everyone just treated him as if he was smart. The young man knew it was absurd to state “France is bacon.” He knew he was missing something. So one day in English class he asked his teacher, “What does “Knowledge is power, France is bacon mean?”” She waxed eloquent on the power of knowledge, but she never explained why France is bacon. One day as an adult he read the quote, 1 Knowledge is power, by Francis Bacon...The penny dropped. Everything made sense now.
I like this story because it illustrates how common undetected misunderstandings can be.
I have come to realize that one of the words that I use all the time has some connotations I had not considered. The word is leadership. I use this word all the time at home and it is part of the Vision Statement of our Commonwealth School. It is ubiquitous in the TJED philosophy that underpins much of what I teach. I was surprised to find out that when I say “Leadership Education” I am often misunderstood. I was shocked to find that Leadership Education, to some people means education focused on:
Developing leaders that--climb the ladder; get the promotion; sit in the high seat; receive the accolades; get the paycheck, benefits and perks. Leaders who hold the titles and receive acclaim. They are good at managing systems. The pioneers and giants who make decisions and call the shots get their way and leave large footprints.
This is a shocking misunderstanding to me. Let me take a moment to define what I mean when I say leadership and then I will give some examples of these ideas in our curriculum.
When I speak of great leaders, I think of the person who is a servant first, making the conscious decision to lead in order to better their world. A leader who serves others, not to increase their own power, but out of care, duty, and love.
Leadership is taught in our Commonwealth as:
A person who has and uses influence as a vision caster, a connector and relationship builder. A leader wants to serve and do good. A humble leader is self-disciplined; they pay the price to change a broken system. A true leader is far sighted; they share power. The influence they wield has no self aggrandizement. A leader who puts the needs of others first and helps people develop to be wiser and freer. A leader cultivates trust. Is selfless, lives (“you” not “me”). The highest priority of a servant leader is to encourage, support, and lift in order help others to unfold their full potential and abilities. A servant-leader continually strives to be trustworthy, self-aware, humble, caring, visionary, empowering, relational, competent, a good steward, and a community builder.
This is quite a list. It means nothing without real-life examples of these virtues in action. In our Commonwealth School, each class highlights servant leaders. We strive to teach about real leadership with inspiring examples.
Shakespeare Macbeth vs Macduff, Duke Senior vs the usurper, Duke Frederick
Key of Liberty (Revolutionary period) George Washington vs Benedict Arnold.
Sword of Freedom (Civil War) Robert E Lee vs Ulysses S Grant
Hero (WWII) Churchill vs Hitler and leaders vs demagogues exercise
We study servant leaders as the ones with the real influence in history and literature. They are NOT the ones saying, “Look at me! I am the top of the pyramid.” Leaders that change the world like George Washington, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, and Joan of Arc are often ordinary people that step onto a larger stage to confront a problem, meet a need, or right a wrong. They are the good parents and citizens, the creators and builders in this world. They lead by example from the front, not by command from high office.
This kind of leadership is rare. I think that is why the misunderstandings I have been made aware of, are happening.
I want to be clear in all my communications when I speak of leaders and leadership. So going forward, I am going to use the term “servant leader” in order to clearly communicate. A servant leader ultimately is someone who follows the example of Jesus Christ, who washed others' feet, and changed the world.
1Francis Bacon was an English Philosopher and Statesman in the early 1600's. Called the Father of the Scientific Method. Thomas Jefferson listed Bacon as one of the great influences in his life, He has been called America's other founding father. One of his biographers, the historian William Hepworth Dixon, wrote that Bacon's influence in the modern world is so great that every man who rides in a train, sends a telegram, follows a steam plough, sits in an easy chair, crosses the channel or the Atlantic, eats a good dinner, enjoys a beautiful garden, or undergoes a painless surgical operation, owes him something. He exemplified his own maxim that, knowledge is power.
1 Francis Bacon was an English Philosopher and Statesman in the early 1600's. Called the Father of the Scientific Method. Thomas Jefferson listed Bacon as one of the great influences in his life, He has been called America's other founding father. One of his biographers, the historian William Hepworth Dixon, wrote that Bacon's influence in the modern world is so great that every man who rides in a train, sends a telegram, follows a steam plough, sits in an easy chair, crosses the channel or the Atlantic, eats a good dinner, enjoys a beautiful garden, or undergoes a painless surgical operation, owes him something. He exemplified his own maxim that, knowledge is power.