Hoekstra: Politicians Have Forgotten 'Servant Leadership'

Thursday, 20 Dec 2012 11:39 PM

By Pete Hoekstra

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The fact that we’re nearing the so-called “fiscal cliff” is yet another indication that those who serve in federal elected positions have forgotten the most basic concept of leadership.

It’s called servant leadership.

Those in government are referred to as “public servants” because they are expected to act on behalf of their constituents, with constituents interests at the forefront at all times.

Alert: Will Boehner, Obama Avoid the Fiscal Cliff? Vote Here

In too many instances major issues have become a matter of “us vs. them” (liberals versus conservatives, Democrats versus Republicans), and the American people, who are most affected by the outcomes, become mere afterthoughts. The fiscal cliff crisis is the latest unfortunate example.

Servant leaders do not wait until the last minute to resolve major issues that will have a major impact on those they serve.

Imagine a private company on the brink of financial ruin, and managers waiting until the last possible moment to tell shareholders about the plan to avoid catastrophe. Imagine them waiting until the final moment to inform customers that they may or may not have their orders filled.

Those managers would be unemployed in short order, either because they were justifiably fired, or the company closed due to their extreme negligence.

Unfortunately Congress cannot be fired and the federal government closed, so the process just keeps limping towards the cliff. It is painful to watch.

The political elites in Washington, D.C. are jeopardizing the future of those they were elected to serve. The New Year is only days away, yet some individuals can’t be sure if they will still have their jobs in 2013, and companies are waiting cautiously to see what the tax code, rules and regulations will look like.

Nobody knows what to expect or how to prepare for the future.That’s no recipe for economic recovery. This is a recipe for disaster.

Alert: Will Boehner, Obama Avoid the Fiscal Cliff? Vote Here

All of this should have been sorted out months ago. With high unemployment, huge deficits, and growing debt,  America needs leadership now, and this isn't it. This isn't President Obama's fault or Speaker Boehner's fault. It is the collective responsibility of all our elected leadership in Washington to solve the current and emerging "crisis."

The “fiscal cliff” we’re facing didn't just appear.The idea of sequestration was created by the leaders of both parties almost two years ago, yet they’ve failed to act to prevent the crisis from arriving.

There is a solution, and it’s not hard to figure out. A balanced plan has economic growth, elimination of wasteful government spending, and additional government revenue.

Voters essentially approved that type of mixed solution in November. They knew President Obama wanted more tax revenue and they returned him to the White House. They knew the Republican-led House of Representatives wanted spending cuts, and they maintained the GOP House majority.

The people obviously saw merit in a mixture of the two plans, and they assumed the elected branches of the government would make it happen. Perhaps they were expecting too much.

Americans want to get back to work! Our nation has tremendous potential for sustained economic growth.The trick is having the type of leaders who know how to make it happen.

I worked as an executive at Herman Miller, a Fortune 500 company, and saw how servant leadership can be put to use in a highly effective way.

Those at the management level were trained to work together in a manner that focused on the best interests of the company, its employees and shareholders.There were disagreements, but they were resolved in a spirit of teamwork and cooperation, because a lot of people were dependent on keeping the company healthy and profitable. Our very futures depended on it. Leaders were required to make decisions, resolve problems and create opportunities.

I was also a congressman for 18 years and I witnessed some examples of servant leadership at the federal level. It was hard to get people to work together, but it happened.

Today that system seems fundamentally broken. All evidence of servant leadership seems to have disappeared.

Servant leadership is challenging, but I’ve watched it produce real and measurable results in both the private and public sectors. I have no doubt that if it’s applied again in the federal government results would be extraordinary.

Alert: Will Boehner, Obama Avoid the Fiscal Cliff? Vote Here

As Americans we have a right to expect, to demand, that our elected officials embrace servant leadership and move quickly away from the fiscal cliff, before it’s too late. They need to compromise, make the tough decisions and move on. They cannot delay and create another 3 to 6 months of uncertainty. They must find the courage to take real steps toward solving our real problems.

Then we could relax and enjoy the season with optimism that we might truly have a Happy New Year.

Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra is a Michigan Republican who most recently ran unsuccessfully for Senate against Democrat Debbie Stabenow.



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