'You are a servant of the people'

'You are a servant of the people'

Make service the cornerstone for leadership in Jamaica, then we'll be fine

Natalie Campbell- Rodriques

Thursday, October 29, 2020

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THE year 2020 has been one which has changed all our lives in one way or another. The COVID-19 pandemic is with us and seems to be here to stay for a while longer than any of us expected or want. Through it all, one of the things which has stayed with us is politics. Love it or hate it, politics is a part of our lives that must exist within democracies. For us, as Jamaicans, the politics revved up in 2020 with general elections in September and it has only geared down a notch, as the local government elections are pending and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) is in full swing to elect a new leader.

With the major win by the Jamaica Labour Party in September there have been rumblings as to the type of leadership our country will see with the Government having an almost 78 per cent majority in the Lower House of Parliament. Signs thus far point to nothing to fear, but with a perceived winner it is not surprising that there is talk.

The rumblings, and my belief in the principles behind Robert Greenleaf's term, servant leadership, have pushed me to once again write about service to people. Why? Because if service becomes the cornerstone for leadership in Jamaica then we will be fine.

There is a story I like to tell, there are various versions of it, but the common elements are as follows: When the great Emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled Rome he was very concerned about not letting his enormous power go to his head. He was aware of the tendency of powerful men to get carried away by their power. It is said that the emperor therefore hired a servant whose main job was to literally follow him around as he walked the streets of the city. Every time a citizen bowed down to greet the emperor, or shouted a word of praise about his great deeds, Marcus Aurelius instructed the servant to whisper a few words in his ear. These were the words: “You're just a man. You're just a man.”

The Roman emperor knew one of the most important truths about power — it does go to the head, and quickly. Part of the reason for this relates to our inherent psychological need for acknowledgement and recognition. This is one of the four basic needs of all human beings. We want to feel important. We want to be recognised. And the more powerful we become — men and women — the more we seem to lose sight of who we are and begin to crave more power and recognition.

We often see this in political leaders, but it is also very much true of many other professions. My concern, however, is primarily with political leaders and public servants; yes, public servants as well. And I start there because too often we find that the people who are placed in positions to serve us often turn it around and expect us to serve them. It is an easy trap in which one can fall.

Whether it is a politician, a public official, or a public service employee, we are all servants of the people. One group — the politicians —are elected to serve the interest of the people, and the other group — the public servants — are recruited or appointed to serve.

But how often do we see political leaders, all over the world, behaving like gods to be worshipped, or civil servants behaving as though they are more important than the people they are expected to serve? Many studies have been done on this issue of how people's behaviour change once they assume positions of authority. I have served as an elected political leader, and I have seen it happen around me. And I have had to catch myself to prevent it from happening with me. I have seen how people, especially the poor, begin to praise leaders and public servants and ask them for favours. I have seen how the 'creator complex' gets formed — politicians and public officials seeing themselves as gods, or as patrons with clients, or as benefactors with beneficiaries. I have seen people waiting hours to seek a small favour from an official who now sees him/herself as being above the people.

As a leader put in a position of authority, how do you constantly remind yourself to be humble, and that you are serving and not being served? We are seemingly seeing that being an issue in a particular political camp in Jamaica at the moment and it does not look or smell good.

The Jews wear a 'cap' to remind them that there is something more powerful above them. Political leaders and public servants often need something to remind us that there is something more powerful around us — the voice, the needs, the rights, the dignity of the citizens we are there to serve. We need to hear that soft voice: “You are a servant of the people, not their creator, not their god.”

So, as we march out of 2020, let us not forget servant leadership for the good of our country, Jamaica.

Natalie Campbell-Rodriques is a senator and development consultant with a focus on political inclusion, governance, gender, and Diaspora affairs. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or ncampbellrodriq@gmail.com.

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