servant leadership, lessons for the Donald


Canada is in the midst of a federal election. At eleven weeks, it is the “longest federal election campaign in recent history“. Constant reference to this election campaign as a “marathon” is laughable compared to the electoral process of our friends to the south. While we count our election campaigns in weeks, Americans count them in months and years. While we bemoan voter apathy and lack of voter engagement, we watch with both bemusement and horror at the the media circus that is American politics. Currently, in the centre ring, we have the unabashedly self-centred and outspoken Donald Trump.

At first it was fun to watch his daring act. He fearlessly flung flaming torches and knives at minorities, undocumented workers, women, and candidates. He hurled accusations and despicable names with no regard for political correctness or basic human decency. Surely this man will sizzle and fade away with the smoke of public censure and disbelief? With others, I eagerly awaited his inevitable downfall. Yet, we’re still waiting. Neil Macdonald, senior CBC correspondent, writes

Mainstream Republicans (admittedly a relative term nowadays) have lost control to a reality show star, a vulgar braggart who somehow manages to evince populism while flaunting extreme wealth and his membership in the .0001 per cent club.

Donald Trump is a one-man sideshow and taking the car keys away from him isn’t going to be easy, if it can be done at all.

As Catholics, we speak of the need for “servant leaders”. Pope Francis models this style of leadership. The goal of a servant leader is to work for and to work with those you are called to serve. Servant leadership does not focus on the trappings of authority. It does not lead with a domineering or heavy hand. But, a servant leader is also not a pushover. She or he needs moral strength and courage to work towards a fair, just, and equitable world – whether it be the board-room, factory floor, class-room, government offices, or religious institutions.

A servant leader knows how to listen, and intentionally seeks to hear many and diverse voices. They know that wisdom is found in open and honest dialogue. When deep set polarity threatens peace, searching for common ground through dialogue can nurture greater understanding. Shutting out voices different from ours simply increases the divide and fuels fear and hatred of the “other”.

A servant leader also knows that no one person is the sole owner of all knowledge. When complex issues cloud discernment, clarity can be discovered by seeking the wisdom of others. It is a truly egotistical mind that believes it has the answer to all issues, often wrapping that answer in impenetrable armours of black and white reasoning. The problem with armours is that they give a false sense of security and impede movement.

I cannot speak of servant leadership and Donald Trump in the same breath, unless it is to ponder how far he is from epitomizing these qualities. The man equates power with money, and unabashedly claims the right to power because of his wealth. He shouts down anyone who dares to question him, presenting his arguments with a bullishness that ignores any need for rational discourse or logical reasoning. Instead of seeking dialogue with those who disagree with him, he resorts to trash talking and character defaming.

What began as a “believe it or not” style of circus, is now morphing into a horrendous “what if?”

3 thoughts on “servant leadership, lessons for the Donald

  1. “Blatant”, “stereotype”, “caricature”, “clown”. These are the terms that come to mind with the name “Trump”. Same with “Rob Ford”. It is legit to hold out these prototypes of our baser selves writ large for ridicule or as a teaching moment. They also scare us – leaving us with a cold comfort that though they are many “those” people like “the Donald” and followers are in the minority and somewhere else. Sort of “there but for the grace of…..”. But are we missing something? Are we allowing the extreme, the obvious, the “not in my country…” to obscure what we really don’t want to see and acknowledge what’s goin’ on in our chicken coop?
    No, I don’t mean just the bit of the “Trump” in each of us though it is worth reflecting on. I mean the closer to home, more subtle and less frequently confronted, challenged abuse of the stage, the real abuse of the audience – us and our self-attributed Canadian values which we also smugly call “Christian”. Let us not underestimate the “why” of our longest and most expensive campaign and so much of what goes with it- the partial statement elevated to a dastardly allegation, our own willingness to tolerate the abuse of law, truth, justice, decency, compassion, to stand with “our” own kind of contradiction while chiding our neighbour. “The economy” is beginning to take on the aura of the “I was only doing what I was ordered”.
    If “Donald” took off his clown suit persona, coiffed his mane to unmovable symmetry, he could well have become President. Surprised? Evidence? Ten years of Canadian politics.

  2. Hi Dennis,

    Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments. I completely agree that Trump does not have the monopoly on the “abuse of the stage, the real abuse of the audience”. What saddens me is not only the state of political discourse both in Canada and the USA, but the state of the audience -us. Why does the public put up with so many leaders (or those seeking leadership) who disregard the voice of the people, the need for reasoned discourse, the seeming lack of regard for good manners and respect for basic human dignity? How do people seeking, or already in, higher offices think that flaunting the law or bad behaviour online is acceptable? Where does their support come from? I’m assuming that the support comes from like-minded people. Too sad.

    1. Thanks Isabella and it is good to hear from you again. As to the why? Because they can. They can because we let them.

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