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What Happens to a Man When He Gets Elected to An Office?

“Brother, you have been chosen to serve.”

Those words, first announced, come as a shock to most elected officials.  When I heard them, a trembling sensation spread outward from the pit of my stomach.  I thought of the people I was succeeding, the responsibilities that were about to be laid on my shoulders, and the new relationships that I was going to forge with all my colleagues.  They would now look at me differently, even though I didn’t want them to.  I was now presumed to have all the answers, even though I didn’t have any more answers now than I had before the vote was taken.  I didn’t want to be thrust into this spotlight, even though I knew it was unavoidable. 

The elected leader becomes more cautious.  Before taking office, the leader formed his opinions quickly and instinctively, and shared them with anyone who happened to be standing by, having little regard for their affect.  He rarely questioned his own judgment or redacted his statements.  Proudly, he was what he was, and he took pleasure in his confident approach to all problems.  He often criticized his elders with impunity, and exchanged knowing, bemused looks with his friends when something was said that seemed ridiculous or unintelligent.

Upon election, however, a sense of responsibility settles down upon the leader.  He starts to exercise much more caution in analyzing situations.  Because the prospect of real life consequences tempers his judgment, he reins in his free-wheeling bluster. Names, events, personal histories become muted, filed away in the back of his mind rather than carelessly rolling off his tongue over a cheeseburger and coffee.

He begins to represent and serve all the constituents.  Before he became an official, he had a group of close friends that shared his views and convictions. There were other ministers, however, with whom he had little in common.  Other than belonging to the same organization, he really didn’t know who they were, what they believed, or what their accomplishments and capabilities were.  Now, necessity has brought him into a much closer relationship with them.  There were yet other men, however, that he knew quite well.  He had profound disagreements with them; they were at the opposite end of the conservative/liberal spectrum from him.  They fit neatly into well defined niches that he had created in his own mind.  He avoided them if at all possible.

Now, his relationship with all of these individuals and groups has changed.  He must limit his association with his former close friends, at least in terms of expressing his opinions and sharing the news of the day.  Every minister stands equal in his eyes.  Pigeon holes have ceased to exist.  While he still holds his same convictions, he can no longer avoid communicating with certain ministers.  He must set his disagreements with them aside to the extent that he can represent and serve them as licensed ministers. 

He feels the weight of each minister’s personal burden.  Other than knowing names and home towns, most ministers have scant knowledge about all but the most visible or popular of their colleagues.  All of them lead extremely busy lives and have little time to maintain relationships beyond their church congregations. 

The elected official, however, assumes an obligation to serve his constituents personal and organizational capacity.   He must inform himself of personal, family and church circumstances of ministers in his jurisdiction, including sicknesses, deaths, financial reversals, church problems and any other major situations that may affect them.  This is more than just acquiring news.  It must be a heartfelt response to their needs.  He remains on call 24/7.

He understands that his decisions will determine the fate of ministers, churches and the district.  It’s one thing to be opinionated without the ability to enforce one’s opinions.  It’s another matter entirely to know that the implementation of those opinions become the fait accompli of constituents.  No burden of leadership outweighs this one.  One, single election places the authority, the instruments of power and the means to fund decisions in the hands of the official.  Such a concentration of power cannot be received or administered lightly.  Hasty conclusions, arrogance and a desire for control must give way to patience, meekness and the gathering of consensus if the wise official wants to execute the duties of his office fairly.  At the same time, he cannot fail to act decisively.  The bottom line is that decisions do have to be made and by virtue of his acceptance of the office, he is the only one authorized to make them. 

He realizes that his words will carry more weight than ever before.  Speculation, musing, thinking out loud—these are luxuries enjoyed by those who are powerless to act.  While every word of a leader should not be taken as a binding statement, nevertheless, words set the tone for people to perceive the leader’s thoughts and intentions.  Nothing he says should sound a discordant note, an unwarranted criticism, a threat or reckless expression.  He cannot help but speak with authority since it is inherent with the job, but it must only be exercised in a subdued, humble manner. 

The question raised in this article, however, is: what happens to a man when he gets elected to an office?  Granted, as has been outlined in the foregoing paragraphs, he alters his behavior in significant ways, and his motivation for acting changes.  A far more basic question is this:  does he become a different person?  I find this an intriguing question.  Is it possible that the very reasons that prompted an organized body of constituents to elect a person to fill an office disappear the moment he assumes his position?  If a man is elected for his boldness and strength of convictions, does he become cowardly and weak the moment he is elected?  If his attributes of congeniality and warmth made him attractive to the voters, does he become distant and cold when he takes up his official duties?  Will the office embolden his harsher tendencies and mute the attributes that won him the post?  Is it ever possible for a voting constituency to get the man it wants?

I cannot fully answer the question whether or not the election changes a man—although I suspect it does—but, I would contend that a newly elected official begins to operate out of a very different paradigm from his pre-election worldview.  He moves from the posture of a challenger to that of preserving the status quo.  He sheds any narrow-minded views that he may have possessed to significantly widen his circle of tolerance and acceptance.  He suppresses his criticism of the organization and the people who lead it and instead becomes an advocate (or even an apologist) for the body.  Where he may have previously excused some forms of criticism or dissension, he now openly discourages such activity and aggressively recruits supporters.  While he may have been ambivalent to detractors, he now seeks to cast the organization in the best possible light.  I admit that these observations may be somewhat overstated in order to get my point across, but I believe that they represent the truth to a measurable degree. 

The preceding contentions do not necessarily mean that an elected leader cannot or will not make changes for the better.  Indeed, he may undertake sweeping changes that have been long overdue.  He may set a different tone for his administration.  He may address grievances and implement policy that will move the organization in a different direction.  But, the essence of his actions will still be on the side of preservation and solidification.  He will not seek to dismantle, but to sustain the whole.  He certainly does not want to be the one who brought down the organization.  And, therein lies the dilemma.  How can he change anything without being changed?  Moreover, if he does change, will he still be capable to affect the changes necessary to make the organization better?  It is a distinct possibility that his success may be the precursor to his failure.

What is the ideal outcome of an election?  I believe that the effective leader owes it to those who put him in office to monitor himself closely.  He must discern any shifts of his own attitude that will fundamentally change him into a different person than the one that was asked to serve the body in the first place.  If he came into office with a vision for positive change, he must fight to maintain that ideal despite all the pressure to do otherwise.  He must overcome the stifling inertia that often paralyzes an organization and get it moving again.  He must continue to cultivate his own creativity and that of others in order to keep the organization fresh and exciting.  He must have the courage to withstand a negative political climate that resists doing things differently. 

I have no doubt that a man’s self-perception changes in a profound way when he is elected to an office.  But his conferred authority, even though it greatly impacts his behavior, will not supersede the moral authority that he already had as a person.  If he was a fully integrated human being before his election, he has the opportunity to lead in a positive direction.  If he was incomplete before taking office and he considers his election as the factor that legitimized his personhood as well as his leadership, he will stumble.  Warren Bennis said, “Effective leaders—and effective people—understand that there is no difference between becoming an effective leader and becoming a fully integrated human being.” 

Leadership changes a man’s duties; it must not change his heart.

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