This is the fourth in a four part (for now) series that I am writing in response to last Tuesday’s election results because for me, writing is way of thinking, knowing, and understanding. In the first post, I tried to take a positive tone, considering what cultural leaders can productively do. In the second post, I shared my personal feeling of disorientation and a tool that helped me get past it. In the third post, I share my anger over what this election means for mothers and daughters. Today, I address the kind of leader I want and that I believe our country needs.
The Servant Leader
If his own autobiography and other reports are accurate, our president-elect has not spent a single day of his adult life working in service to others. Instead, it seems he has worked doggedly to line his own pockets and those of his children. The country chose him over a woman who has worked in public service on and off throughout her long career. Let me correct myself. It is the states, via the electoral college, that chose him, the popular vote having favored Hillary Rodham Clinton by over 630,000 votes or about one percent. The president-elect would be wise to pay attention to that fact – that he lost the popular vote – as he moves from unabashed self-interest to governing in the public interest. I’m not convinced someone can make such a fundamental shift in perspective in the few short weeks between election and inauguration.
Robert Greenleaf developed a theory of servant leadership in the 1970s to describe the kind of leader needed to head organizations in which people are building a better tomorrow through ethics and virtue. Bolman and Deal call it “leading with soul.” I just call it “putting people first.” In a servant leader model, the leader leads by serving, by helping followers reach their full potential ethically. In servant leadership, the leader is servant first. According the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership:
A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
I want a leader who focuses on the growth and well being of people and communities. I want a leader who shares power, not one who would ever say, “I alone can fix it.” I want a leader who puts the needs of others first, whether they be immigrant, Muslim, Jew, trans, gay, brown, white or purple. And, I want a leader who helps develop people to perform as highly as possible.
The country – indeed the world – is stuck with Donald J. Trump for four years (unless he is impeached for malfeasance of some kind) but we don’t have to stop seeking servant leaders at every level of government and that’s what we can do. From the town council to the state legislature, from the corporation commission to the House of Representatives, let’s seek out leaders who put people first. Not people who put some abstract religious concept first, not people who put financial gain first, and certainly not a person who has not spent a single day in service to others.
There are 435 seats in the US House up for grabs in 2018. Lets work hard to find some servant leaders to fill them.
(image from the Bantam Books paperback edition of Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East)