At the Kung Fu school (kwon) I attend, Peaceful Dragon, they have a Leadership club for kids and teens.

In this leadership club qualities such as strength of character, positive attitude, and more. Along with this program comes enhanced prestige and opportunity. However, those benefits are well paid for through and increase in the expectation, duty and responsibility of service.

This weekend is clean up weekend at the kwon consisting of repairing and maintaining the training grounds. It is all performed voluntarily as the savings for paying outside contractors to help with this goes back into the school and returns to us in the form of better equipment and cheaper tuition. Of course, the kids in the leadership club have been strongly encouraged not only to attend, but to marshal the other students into volunteering as well.

Given Charlotte, North Carolina’s absolutely beautiful weather this weekend, this is no small task. And that got me thinking on the correlation between leadership and service.

On Leadership and Service

Is Service == Leadership?

No. You can serve anonymously and effectively without leading anyone. Doing good does not automatically make you a leader.

Is Leadership Really Service?

A better way to ask this might be, to be a leader, must you also serve? Well, I guess that depends on your definition of ‘leader.’

Leader (n)

Def. A Leader is somebody is worth following because they are both effective and inspirational.

Leadership is Not Forming a Cult

“The goal of many leaders is to get people to think more highly of the leader. The goal of a great leader is to help people to think more highly of themselves.”
-J. Carla Nortcutt

Who Does a Leader Really Work For?

“If you don’t understand that you work for your mislabeled ‘subordinates,’ then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.”
—Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus, VISA International

Leaders are Lighthouses

I argue that people who are simply effective are just managers. Those who are inspirational, yet ineffective can be labeled as philosophers. Leaders are like lighthouses; illuminating hazards, protecting charges from harm, and showing the path to security and safety.

On Volunteerism

‘Volunteering for XYZ is a great way to demonstrate leadership.’ Come on, you know this one. It’s often cited around office, schools, places of worship and any place people congregate. I used to think this was a simple bait tactic. A deal between management and the cubicle masses roughly translated to “make me look good on this service project to my (boss, peers, local media) and it might influence your next review.

Alternately, some might see the Leadership Clubs kids’ volunteerism as merely paying their dues. Effort spent for the gain of that prestige. A trade and nothing more.

But what if we look at this from a less cynical perspective? How can volunteering make you a great leader?

How Service Can Make A Great Leader?

Volunteering affords you the opportunity to stretch your wings. The lack of funds and structure generally means you get to exercise as much control as you wish. You gain the opportunity to demonstrate that your vision is true and your skills can be trusted. You gain management tools to add to your ‘effectiveness’ toolbox and experience using them.

But is that the end of the matter?

Service Traits that Actually Demonstrate Leadership

Think of someone you know to be a leader. Or, perhaps, think of your ideal leader. Again, someone both inspirational and effective.

Be Welcoming

One of the chief responsibilities of the Leadership Club kids is to welcome new members into the fold. It’s amazing how far small acts of kindness will take you.

“People want to belong, they want to be missed when they don’t show up.”
CopyBlogger’s Interview of Seth Godin


At the end of lessons and after belt tests, the Leadership kids are asked to provide notes to those whom they noticed in class. Positive reinforcement for those behaving and performing superlatively. Encouragement for those who have not yet mastered what they seek. Isn’t that something your ideal leader would do?

“If there was no criticism or praise, who would you be?”
-Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks International (via Jonathan Fields)


There is no need to do everything yourself. And that’s a key component of volunteerism. Cheerfully accept the help that is granted. You never want to turn down someone’s offer because there would be no incentive for people to volunteer again. Why do so many would-be-leaders fail understand that empowering followers the way that one might delegating desired effects to a volunteer instead of dictating exact processes would lead to similar success?

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
-General George S. Patton

If nothing else, you’re just going to piss them off. Both the volunteers and your followers.

Delegating increases the morale, confidence, and productivity of subordinates. A boss that takes over his subordinates’ responsibilities, constantly looks

over their shoulder, and sticks his nose in their every doing, creates very dissatisfied people.
Art of Manliness


Leadership Kinds are also judged on the consistency of their efforts (martial arts classroom and otherwise) as well of that of their demeanors. This, while a difficult task to expect from many adults let alone kids, makes perfect sense. How willing would you be to follow someone whom exhibited multiple personalities? How would you know which way was up? After all, you can only have one master.

I forget where I heard it first but the lesson we should all remember is: Ability is inadequate if the effort and message is inconsistent.


Can you be both a Leader and Follower?

Yes, of course you can. Most people we would describe as Great Leaders (again, effective and inspirational) are those we watch marshalling forces towards a greater goal that we find worthy.

Is that limited to those with a title? No, of course not.

“Everyone wants to be a leader, it seems, but here’s an idea: why not be an influential follower?”
-Chris Guillebeau, Influential Following

A Word of Warning to Would-be Leaders

Just be sure that you believe in the mission before you shoulder the responsibility. Taking on a project of mercy for personal glory or self-validation is immoral. True-believers only wanted.

This has been a long and rambling article. If you made it this far, thank you! What lessons can you share on service and leadership? What examples can you identify of Leaders who are both amazingly effective and astonishingly inspirational? Let us know in the comments below!

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