I heard a fascinating interview with someone whose name I did not catch as he talked about analyzing marketing materials for political candidates. He said that in this age of technological media, candidates’ pundits can immediately analyze which words carry the most voter impact even which clothes the candidate should wear for specific markets. As soon as “the handlers” know what works for which groups, those words will find their way into speeches. All this is to motivate us to react positively for the candidate and vote for him or her. We know that television ads don’t just happen but are carefully crafted to get us to react emotionally, to tap into our fears, and to market the candidate for our locale, needs, and wants.
I propose another way to evaluate a candidate as deserving my vote… as a servant leader which I define as leadership that helps people grow into their full potential for the good of the community and themselves.
A servant leader is different from a leader who leads for power or money. The servant leader values people first, tasks second. A servant leader listens…not just to those who have power but also to those whose voices have been silenced by poverty, oppression, violence, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
This leader listens to understand. He or she focuses on the meanings behind the words, the spaces of silence, and the non-verbal cues of the speaker. The servant leader seeks to relate to others, even those with whom disagreement is foremost.
The servant leader seeks to bring healing by transforming the status quo, by challenging the way things have always been, and through compromising when necessary. The servant leader resists polarizing language, solutions, and policies. The servant leader uses persuasion rather than coercion to help make needed changes for the community.
The servant leader is aware of what is going on within all the subgroups of his/her constituencies. This leader understands that people who live in poverty are struggling to survive daily and are not often concerned with what’s going on within the national scene. This leader understands that people with power often make rules that benefit them and those like them. This leader realizes that people who are recent residents of the community see things in very different terms than those who have lived in the area for generations. The servant leader considers all these differences and seeks to help everyone reach his or her highest potential for the good of both self AND the community.
That’s the challenge…for leaders to search for ways to address the needs and concerns of the individual AND the community, of the grandmother raising her grandchildren and big business, of our country and the international community. A servant leader lives and works within these tensions and keeps them always in the front of the decision and law making processes.
The servant leader is self aware. She knows herself, her strengths and her weaknesses. She can laugh at herself. He is humble enough to surround himself with people who complement him (not compliment as in giving constant praise but complement as in balance out his weaknesses.)
The servant leader is a visionary and sees beyond the immediate dilemma to look toward the future with insight, creativity, and a big dose of curiosity. “What would happen if…” is a great question for such a leader. This leader can move beyond “common sense” and think with abstraction and conceptual skills.
The servant leader believes that people have tremendous growth potential. People and a community can thrive when given the kinds of infrastructure required to get and keep jobs, opportunities to meet all basic needs that make us human, and environments that build trust and generous relationships with all kinds of people.
Some will see these criteria as unrealistic and naïve. They will agree with Machiavelli who said, “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.”
Nevertheless, indeed, what would our community, our region, and our country look like when we had servant leaders guiding us into our future?