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Are Our Elected Officials Really Leaders?

Are government leaders actually doing their jobs?

“Servants of the people.” No doubt you’ve heard that name given to our elected government officials. We also refer to them as our “nation’s/state’s elected leaders.” If you put those two labels together, our elected representatives should behave as leaders, and should serve the people they represent. But do they?

What does it mean to be a servant leader? First and foremost, servant leaders put the needs and goals of the followers first. They focus on shared goals and the good of the collective. They are concerned about the people they represent, and try to make their conditions better.

Second, servant leaders are responsive to their followers’ needs and concerns and involve them in decision making. Moreover, the focus is on what the followers need and want, not on the leader’s own initiatives and personal gains. Followers, not the leader, set the agenda. Here is where many of our political leaders fall short.

Servant leaders are also ethical leaders. They do the right thing. They are true to their calling. There are no hidden agendas. All too often, our elected leaders seem like they are serving the political party, or the upper administration, rather than the people.

Finally, a true servant leader creates value. She or he is concerned about having a positive impact on the larger community, not just serving their personal needs or the needs of that group of followers/constituents who support the leader. The true servant leader is focused on the common good.

The best examples of servant leaders from history are leaders of social movements, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, and Jane Addams. These leaders had the good of the followers – those whom they served – as their primary concern. Surprisingly, they were not elected political leaders.

A good test of our elected public officials is to examine how closely they adhere to the tenets of servant leadership theory. We can ask these key questions:

  • Do they place the needs and goals of those they represent over their own personal goals and ambitions?
  • Do they involve constituents in the decision-making process, or do they make decisions based on their own concerns, or the concerns of powerful individuals (e.g., donors) or in line with their political party?
  • Does the collective benefit from the leader’s term in office? In other words, does the leader leave followers better off at the end of his or her term than at the beginning?
  • Does the leader truly serve the people?

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