Characteristics of Effective and Ethical Public Servants

man with glasses speaking on phone in office

When you hear the term “public servant,” you might think of an elected official such as a mayor or senator. Actually, the range of public service is broader than this. Public servants include any local, state or federal government employee of a government organization. Firefighters, police officers, public health officials, librarians, teachers and volunteers for the Peace Corps all fall in the public sector.

Cultivating a Sense of Duty

Most people work to bring home a paycheck and support of their families. However, just as in the private sector, public servants tend to do a much better job if they truly care about their work. Effective public servants must have an enduring sense of duty that compels them to go the extra mile and to behave with integrity. When faced with a challenging situation, public servants who believe in a call to service are more likely to behave ethically.

Embracing Servant Leadership

The concept of servant leadership has endured for centuries. However, Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term “servant leader” in 1970 when he published his essay “The Servant as Leader.” Greenleaf wrote that the servant leader feels a sense of duty to lead. This stands in sharp contrast to traditional leadership, where someone may assume a leadership position purely out of a desire for privilege or power. Servant leaders understand that they intend to serve others. Public servants can embrace the following qualities of servant leadership:

  • Being mindful of and caring for the underprivileged in society.
  • Prioritizing the growth and well-being of individuals and their communities.
  • Displaying awareness, empathy and foresight.

It is important to note that servant leadership can exist at all levels of an organization. Some public service involves working directly with the people living in communities, while others may solely work with their teams in the organization. In both settings, public servants can embrace the principles of servant leadership.

Leading by Example

Public servants are often expected to be inspirational individuals who motivate their teams or their communities. An inspired team or community member is more likely to achieve growth. How exactly can a public servant be inspirational in building community? Some people have natural charisma, but this is also something that can be cultivated. One way to inspire others is to lead by example, such as by demonstrating a careful commitment to ethical conduct. Someone who leads and places himself or herself in the same situations as others can inspire others.

At Grand Canyon University, you can develop your communication, leadership approach and critical thinking skills for your future professional pursuits. Consider enrolling in our Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies or our Bachelor of Arts in Government with an Emphasis in State and Local Public Policy. To learn about more about these and other programs offered by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, please visit our website or click on the Request More Information button on this page.

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