President could be catalyst for renewing trust in the common good


RITE AND REASON:This period of change is a time to reflect on the style of presidency that is appropriate to the needs of modern Ireland

AFTER A demanding election, Michael D Higgins became the first person in the history of the State to receive over a million votes and was elected our ninth president.

It is an opportunity to reflect on the role of the president and the direction we would like it to take over the next seven years.

Over the last 14 years, Mary McAleese became an icon for our nation. She set out to build bridges across the various divided sections of society. Possibly the highlight of her achievements was the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth last May.

In so many events that McAleese attended, she brought her empathetic and caring nature to all whom she encountered.

With the election of the President, a whole new style of leadership begins. He has been the first to dispel the fear that the presidency will return to an elder statesman role like some presidents in the past.

He often stresses an inclusive presidency where everyone is treated with respect, where creativity is fostered and where new paradigms of thought and action are developed.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” are the words of US president John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), reflecting on his role as leader of a nation.

In this period of change in the leadership of our country, it is time to reflect on the style of leadership appropriate to the needs of a modern and inclusive Ireland. One model that may be beneficial is the servant-leadership model developed by Robert K Greenleaf (1904-1990). He argued the servant-leader is a leader who is servant first, and it begins with the instinct that if one wants to lead, one also has to serve. The role of the servant-leader is to make sure that other people’s highest-priority needs are being served. The central question for a servant-leader is “do those who are served grow as persons?”

Do they, while being served, become wiser, freer and more autonomous? Are they more likely to become servant-leaders themselves? Will the least privileged in society benefit?

In his inauguration address, the President spoke passionately about the need for every generation to have its own aisling, its own vision, of a better, kinder, happier and shared world.

He set out an ambitious vision of an Ireland where the active and creative participation of all citizens and communities is encouraged.

Through a servant-leadership model, the President has

the opportunity to fulfil this dream by engaging with those sections of society that feel on the margins of modern Ireland.

During his political career, the President often proved to be a voice for the voiceless. He championed unpopular causes, challenged prevailing attitudes and remained consistent with his core values of respect and dignity to all. Modern Ireland has created a new, modern marginalised. Using the servant-leader model, he can continue to reach out to the people society ignores.

Nobody could have imagined the transformation in Irish society over the last 14 years. Unemployment, emigration and economic stagnation have replaced the prosperity of the boom years.

If the role of the president is to provide a vision for the direction of the county at a national level, the servant-leader model could be a means of inspiring leadership in all sections of society.

The reputation of many of the major institutions is in tatters.

A servant-leadership model could provide the catalyst for renewing trust in the common good and enable the President to encourage all Irish people, at home or far away, to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. If this is achieved, the President will have succeeded in being a servant-leader for all the people.

Fr Rory Coyle is a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Armagh