Franke: Essential Characteristics of Public Leaders

May 30, 2023

by Mark Franke

A group of friends were talking one afternoon about what we should look for in our elected officials. What characteristics must be displayed in a candidate in order to deserve our votes?

It is easy to be cynical given the clown circus on display in Washington D.C. I just succumbed to this cynicism myself with the previous sentence. Such an attitude is not helpful; the crisis must be addressed.

My standard operating procedure whenever I want to gaze into the future is to view the clear images to be seen in the past. In this case it is to look to the Founding Fathers, the truly greatest generation, to learn what characteristics these men exhibited in building our nation.

I chose the six most important Founders and chose a personality trait each possessed such that he could be considered a paragon of that characteristic. My list is somewhat arbitrary but I contend still defensible.

Here is my list and my choice for the exemplar of that characteristic:

Note that none of the six Founders listed possessed all the requisite characteristics. Their genius lay in their recognition of the contributions of the others and how, even if only for a short time, their united efforts could accomplish something truly great. Two hundred fifty years later, their accomplishment is still around.

Perhaps it was nothing more than synchronicity, a serendipitous confluence of genius in time and space. I see the hand of God in it as I don’t like to rely on impossibly long odds for something important to happen. Regardless, happen it did.

Unfortunately, the present-day evolution of their work is just a dim shadow of that which emanated from those brilliant minds. Can we find a core group of 21st century public servants willing to risk their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to restore our republic to that created by the Founders? Can they yoke competitive ambitions to a shared vision of what was and might be again?

I was asked in a recent interview to name one person who could rise to the occasion of reuniting our country around the founding principles. I couldn’t, but then it required a handful and more at the founding.

My group of friends will continue thinking deeply on this. We don’t give up easily and we know what is at stake. John Adams’ stubbornness should serve us well.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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