This month’s entry is a guest post written by Rick Newton. He co-founded the Center for Serving Leadership with John Stahl-Wert in 2015 because of their shared vision and passion of equipping leaders to awaken, align, and achieve Great Purpose.
Here in the United States, we have just come through a historic election – unlike one that anyone has ever seen. Don’t worry – I am not going to get into political opinion, but I do want to get into politics – and talk about how Serving Leaders are needed in every facet of society, especially Government.
There are many problems with our society, and I trace all of them back to leadership – or to be more precise, a lack of serving leadership. Too often, leaders in government are self-centered, egotistic, and more concerned about staying in power than serving the people they represent.
When self-centered leadership is in place, we see the results: name-calling, blame-shifting, miscommunication, no communication, undermining, dysfunction, and an inability and unwillingness to rise above differences to serve the common good.
Don’t believe me? Just imagine how others “on the other side of the aisle” might answer the following: What are the most important problems we face? Why do these problems exist? What’s the root cause? How should they should be addressed?
These differences are made even worse when taken to their ideological extreme. So how can we break this gridlock and make government “of the people, by the people, for the people” again? I believe the answer is found in the principles of Serving Leadership.
THE 5 ACTIONS℠
At the Center for Serving Leadership, we talk a lot about The 5 Actions℠ to describe the practices and behaviors great leaders must learn to become highly effective. These actions are important because we want to equip leaders to make a difference in their world, taking proven concepts and making them deeply practical. So rather than call for leaders in government to be more selfless, humble, patient, kind, faithful, and courageous (which we’d all like to see more of), let’s look at how The 5 Actions℠ of a Serving Leader might be applied to the sphere of Government.
1. Run to Great Purpose
Serving Leaders define and communicate a Great Purpose that transcends liberal or conservative ideology. A Great Purpose is a vision of the future that aligns the entire organization around something that is bigger than itself – and then empowers everyone in it to see it come to pass.
Often, an organization’s Great Purpose can be defined by understanding the Founders’ original intent for why the organization (in this case, government) was started in the first place. In other words, you don’t have to be a futurist or brilliant strategist to be a Serving Leader. You just may need to look back in order to see the way forward. Why was your State, City, Municipality, or Country founded? As it relates to the US Government, I might suggest looking to the US Constitution for a Great Purpose that can right our Federal Government’s ship:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
In this preamble, is there not a Great Purpose we can all agree on? Who can argue with words like: justice, tranquility, defense, general welfare, and liberty? Okay, don’t answer that question, but if we’re honest, the reality is these are principles (purposes for government) most of us can agree on – and they form the basis of a future – of common ground – by which our leaders in government can begin to make forward progress.
2. Raise the Bar
I often hear leaders tell me they don’t like the term “serving leadership” (or “servant leadership”), because they think it implies weakness, but nothing could be further from the truth. Serving Leadership requires strength, perseverance, and courage, because it relentlessly holds individuals and the organization to high standards. The Serving Leader “Raises the Bar” around these standards by defining core values, ensuring these core values are embedded and practiced throughout the entire organization, and proactively addressing gaps when they are not.
When was the last time you saw any governmental entity define a set of core values, let alone operate by and hold themselves accountable to them? If you know of examples, I’d like to hear about them. If you don’t, I want to challenge you (whether you’re a government official or not) that we ask our representatives to Raise the Bar and define and operate by values such as customer service (constituent service?), integrity, stewardship, transparency and serving leadership. I believe this action is one of the key missing ingredients to seeing Government become more effective.
3. Blaze the Trail
Complain. Complain. Complain. That’s mostly what we do to our Government officials. They rarely hear from us when something goes right, but they always hear from us when something goes wrong. Blazing the Trail is about understanding what is working well in your organization from the customer’s perspective – and making sure it is replicated through a learning/teaching organization.
Yes, there is a lot of waste in government, and we need Serving Leaders who can remove the wasteful spending and activity that doesn’t serve government’s Great Purpose, but we also need Serving Leaders who reinforce (and teach others) when it is doing something well in the service of the people.
For example, I recently renewed my driver’s license. Do you know how long I waited in line – a line with about 8-10 people in front me? 8 minutes! That’s right – from the time I walked in, to the time I walked out with a new Pennsylvania driver’s license, it only took 8 minutes! I was so pleased (and shocked) that I told the employees who helped me how pleased I was with their service. Someone in the Pennsylvania DMV understood what made for a successful license renewal (fast turnaround and a friendly extrovert at the photograph station), and as a result, this part of government exceeded my expectations. Have you ever heard someone say that before? Would that every leader in government follow this example and Raise the Bar by figuring out what best serves their customer and ensuring their team does too!
4. Build on Strength
As I write this post, the President-elect is interviewing and selecting individuals to some pretty important posts in the US Government: Secretary of State, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Defense, etc. I don’t know if any of those will be selected out of a sense of “quid pro quo” or with an eye to please a certain segment of the electorate, but I am hoping and praying that “the best” person is chosen for each position.
At the Center for Serving Leadership, we define a “strength” as both something you are good at and passionate about, and we believe that the highest performing teams are those that build on a person’s strengths – with individual weaknesses covered up by the strengths of others on the team.
How refreshing would it be to select men and women to these important positions based on merit, not based on politics or favors? How refreshing would it be if each appointee was operating out of their strength (what they were good and passionate about) and deferred to others in the cabinet in areas of weakness? Building on Strength creates the potential for synergy, teamwork, and in the context of government, the ability to actually accomplish Great Purpose and the will of the people. That would be refreshing indeed!
5. Upend the Pyramid
Upend the Pyramid speaks of turning the traditional organization pyramid upside down, where those typically represented at the top are now at the bottom. In this upside down pyramid, leadership is recognized as a platform to serve others. The greater the role, the greater the responsibility and privilege to serve. This isn’t weak leadership. It’s a visual representation of the principle that you qualify to be first by putting others first. If you want to be great, you must learn to be the servant of all.
In the context of government, Upend the Pyramid means not taking advantage of power and privilege for self-aggrandizement. It means staying away from conflicts of interest – even the appearance of a conflict of interest. It means humbling yourself and never thinking you are better than others – even those with whom you disagree.
Please understand – I’m not talking about compromising principles, and I am especially not asking Serving Leaders to compromise with non-Serving Leaders – those motivated by self-promotion or self-interest. In fact, I might go so far as to say you have a moral obligation to resist those whose political motivations are in their own self-interest. Upending the Pyramid, however, ensures public service remains the motivation and focus for the entire organization, and if this practice can be embraced by those at the top, there is yet hope for our Government.
Government is not the problem. The lack of Serving Leadership in government is the problem. Government is only as effective as the leadership within it, and now more than ever, governments (in the US and around the world) need Serving Leaders.
This post is just a primer to get us started on our journey and consider the possibilities of seeing Serving Leadership in government. If you have additional insights or want to discuss how we can collaborate to bring the Serving Leader movement to all levels of government, please contact me or John Stahl-Wert. We’d love to serve you and our government.
Rick Newton is the founder and owner of the Newton Family of Companies, which includes: Aspirant (formerly Newton Consulting), Newton Talent, and Newton Institute, where the Center for Serving Leadership resides. Rick is passionate about Serving Leadership, because he sees it as the key to Great Purpose being achieved in individuals, organizations and communities worldwide.
Photo by Martin Falbisoner from Wikimedia Commons (US Capitol at Dusk)