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A life of servant leadership

In The Great Learning, Confucius said “to become a leader one must first become a human being.” Peter Senge believes that Confucius’s statement means little today because we have lost the sense of our life’s journey as one of becoming a human being.

I believe that the results of this election make one thing very clear – the Maltese people want a leadership that matters

And, with that loss, we have lost the foundation of lived experience for development as leaders.

The results of the general election go a long way to show that a large section of the electorate is in search of a leadership that respects people as people.

For far too long many people have witnessed first-hand an abuse of power; of a small group of people who used their positional authority to make inroads for personal gain and not really for the so-called ‘common good’.

As Desmond Zammit Marmarà noted “accountability of government ministers was non-existent… breaches of ethics and improper behaviour went unpunished. Transparency was lacking…” (The Times, Monday March 11).

The call is for good governance, and as Professor Joe Pirotta noted, the election was also lost on this level. Now the challenge is for the new Government, which may easily run the risk, especially with the passage of time, to fall into the trap of its predecessors – of abuse of power, on clientelism and a profound loss of purposefulness – to live up to its words.

The newly appointed Prime Minister talks of humility, of remaining connected. Time will be the true test.

Jules Ormont said “a great leader never sets himself above his followers except in carrying responsibilities.” If you are in a leadership position, do not rely on your title to convince people to follow you.

I look forward to living and working in a context where the role of ethics in the conduct of politics, business and the professions receives its due attention.

This pushes to the forefront the moral obligations of leaders.

The core of servant leadership is quite simple: authentic, ethical leaders, those we trust and want to follow, are servants first. This, as Don Frick notes, “is a matter of intent, action, skills, capacities, and being. A servant-leader stands in sharp contrast to the person who wants to be a leader first and then, after clawing his or her way to the top, decides to perform acts of service.”

Servant leadership goes beyond individuals. A servant leader is not meant to be a slave or martyr but one who consciously nurtures the mature growth of self, other people, institutions and communities.

Back in March 2011, I wrote in The Sunday Times: “Principles, beliefs and values are cardinal to life and central to our life as leaders. To walk the talk is not only a slogan but a way of living in which we assume the responsibility to live in communion with others. Integrity, authenticity and responsibility form the backbone of this communion. For this reason it is important that we live our daily lives, our daily encounters with passion and enthusiasm, being genuine, expressing respect, being humble and prepared to serve, expressing gratitude, creating opportunities for dialogue, collaboration and opportunities for on­going formation.”

I believe that the results of this election make one thing very clear – the Maltese people want a leadership that matters; a leadership that is exemplary in nature; one that abounds in a climate of respect, understanding and sacrifice.

The people want and deserve a leadership based on three main attributes: integrity, trustworthiness and authenticity. This is what has been lacking at various levels and institutions.

The critical issue will always be whose interests are we really looking at? We need to engage with our definition of leadership.

In my opinion, leadership is an avocation and a vocation. This implies loving what you get to do and get to care for and serving others. Think! What is the difference between an organisation and leadership that pays attention to everyone rather than one that only caters to a few? Think! What is the impact of telling your valued but overlooked employees that they work for an organisation that supports their desire to come together? Think! Why do you choose to serve and lead? Think! Why do you act in particular ways?

This will not be easy as we need to explore the mindscapes and epistemologies that routinely cover our perceptions and create our realities. The world is not always what we think it is.

This is because we get what we expect, and we expect what we believe to be true. One thing is certain: changing our minds about the leadership theories and practices that we currently believe in and that we currently use is difficult.

But this change has to come first, followed by an honest commitment to climb out of the box that now imprisons us.

This is the major challenge that awaits those wishing to make a difference for our country.

Christopher Bezzina is a former Education Permanent Secretary.

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