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Alaina Love
Leadership author

Alaina Love

Alaina Love is co-author, with Marc Cugnon, of The Purpose Linked Organization and co-founder of Purpose Linked Consulting.

Servant leadership in politics

Question: In approaching the coming Congressional budget battle, House Republican leaders have decided to forsake the bipartisan center and bow to the spending-cut demands of the most conservative members of their caucus. This mirrors the strategy of House Democratic leaders who, in the previous session, accommodated the demands of their most liberal members on key issues, only to lose power in the next election. Is it more effective for leaders to demonstrate a willingness to compromise early on, or to stake out a hard line in the hope of compromising less later?

Since the 5th century BC, when the Greeks coined the term dēmokratía, meaning "rule of the people," we have understood democracy to be a form of government where every individual has an equal voice over matters that affect their lives. Our representative democracy, by its very nature, is one that demands compromise in order to operate effectively. How that compromise is arrived at is the relevant issue, both in Washington and in boardrooms around the globe.

From a leadership perspective, there is little long-term benefit to be gained by hard-line politics, which in essence positions the leader to cling to a chosen worldview even in the face of evidence to the contrary. (The recent crisis with the Mubarak regime in Egypt is a good case in point.) Intractable leaders do not serve their country or their organizations well; their unyielding positions fuel only their egos and quest for power. In the end, those they are responsible for serving suffer the greatest negative impact.

Throughout my career, the most effective leaders I've met practiced servant leadership. They lived and breathed trust, gave priority to the needs of others over their own needs, built a culture of community within the organization and gained power through authority rather than force. These leaders were as vested in the quality of the conversation that led to a compromise as they were in the outcome itself. As servant leaders, they accepted responsibility for initiating and nurturing that conversation, certain that they could learn something from individuals who agreed with them, but perhaps more from those who did not.

The foundation of a healthy dialogue in Congress and in business requires servant leaders who are willing to demonstrate purity in their motives and integrity in their actions, while embracing their obligation to clearly articulate their expectations. If more of this leadership behavior was at work in our political system, the electorate might be less distrustful, angry and disappointed in those chosen to represent them--and we might actually get something positive accomplished in Washington.

Marc Cugnon, CEO of Purpose Linked Consulting contributed to this post.

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By Alaina Love

 |  February 15, 2011; 12:44 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Government leadership , Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Prepare the caucus for letdown | Next: This is not the time to compromise


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In following their constituent wishes, the Republicans are doing their jobs. It’s that simple. Plus, making drastic cuts at this time is what many have asked for and it’s just the right thing to do. To keep spending when there’s no money is irresponsible. As this article (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-standards/do-whats-required-not-just-desired) points out, sometimes you’ve got to do what’s required to create satisfaction.

Posted by: Julie-Ann1 | February 27, 2011 10:14 PM
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Although lost on many politicians today, I agree with the notion that the best leaders are servant leaders. Leaders who seek to appeal to both sides often reveal that they are more open-minded concerning certain issues and that they are not blindly clinging to ideals simply because they represent the beliefs of a particular party. I understand the necessity for a strong stance during a time of crisis, but the back-and-forth swing of the political system in America serves as a pervasive example of how strong stances cannot be held for long.

America is at a point where change is needed, it has been the motto for our country for the last several years. However, I do not see how our need for change justifies a need for hard-line views as some would argue. Effective change does not require the implementation of sweeping one-sided reforms, but instead requires compromise and understanding from both sides. This may seem to prolong the current problem, but I believe that in the long run it will prove to be the best solution to our current situation.

Posted by: paulgabraham | February 18, 2011 2:39 PM
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Although balanced dialogue, willingness to compromise, and service-based leadership are wonderful ideals to aspire to, in reality, leaders must carefully consider how effective these principles are, especially in the realm of politics. The way the existing system works, in order to climb the ranks and maintain their power, political leaders must be cautious about compromising. As shown by the example of George W. Bush, sometimes hard-line views are necessary for building a strong, supportive base. Additionally, finding a successful compromise between opposing views is a difficult goal to realize. Sometimes it results in inaction, simply because it takes so long for the parties involved to agree on a solution. Leaders must judge when it is effective to take a hard-line position in order to accomplish something they firmly believe in, and when it is important to reach a compromise on an issue.

Posted by: juliaretta | February 17, 2011 11:45 PM
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