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Patricia McGinnis
Public Affairs leader

Patricia McGinnis

Former President and CEO of The Council for Excellence in Government, McGinnis teaches leadership at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute and advises the White House on leadership programs for presidential appointees.

Forgetting Your Followers

The strength of the leader-constituent relationship is a key predictor of leadership effectiveness. It's so simple and yet so many leaders forget -- in the heat of passion, greed, or embarrassment -- to ask themselves what the people they serve would think?

Or more to the point for leaders in public life, "How would what you are about to do read on the front page of The Washington Post?" If the answer is "Oh my God!" a pause is in order to think in a broader context about your actions.

Mark Sanford has now joined a long list of leaders, including many strong advocates of family values, who have been unfaithful to their spouses and lied in the process. Does this disqualify him from being an effective leader? The answer is not an absolute "yes", but "it depends."

It depends on his relationship with his constituents as they consider what he did, the credibility of his explanation, the sincerity of his resolutions, and his actual behavior, going forward. This information, for the most part, is being communicated through press reports and media commentary.

Though not a South Carolina constituent, my reaction to the Sanford saga has ranged from an aversion to "way too much personal information," to bemusement about how the self righteous handle their falls from grace, to a little cheer for Jenny Sanford, who stood up for herself and her children, leaving the governor on his own to try to regain the trust of his constituents. No prediction yet on how that will turn out, but could we be spared every detail?

By Patricia McGinnis

 |  June 30, 2009; 3:14 PM ET
Category:  Ethics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Transgressions vs. Contributions | Next: Immorality, Magnified


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An elected leader should never forget the constituency during that short period of time they hold 'public' office, whether it be 2, 4 or 8 years (remember the term 'limit').

It is the right of the voters to require an 'unwritten code of conduct', especially in a democracy. This public trust, binding the voter to the voted, enables a democracy to flourish.

It is preferential to see a politician's press conference about a 'mea culpa', than to a hidden signature sending so many people to a gulag. It just feels safer.

Therefore, this 'drama' is simply democracy unfolding.

Can we now now trust the Governor?

The electorate will decide whether he is strong enough to 'carry' the 'weight' needed to uphold the pillars of democracy.

If it is seen that he has reached his 'limit'; the public will thank him kindly for holding the burden for this long; and ask someone strong to step forward to the 'office of public trust'.

Posted by: hiltifrance | July 1, 2009 9:08 AM
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The flaw in this argument is that it has become clear that the constituents in this case may not really be basing their relationship on facts about their leader... heck, not even Mr. Sanford's wife was doing so.

I elect people based on my belief that they will make good governmental decisions and lead that large organization, period. I don't preach family values because I do not believe I have any way to know if the people I am electing do or do not live by them... it's simply impossible and often very disappointing... I am also turned off when political parties make such an immeasurable topic a cornerstone of their case for election.

In the end, this leader-constituent relationship should suffer because this leader abandoned the state and used it's tax money to chase a woman.

Posted by: Rickster623 | July 1, 2009 8:31 AM
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