Each week we look at one of four qualities necessary to succeed in this category, all of which come from a speech then President-elect John F Kennedy gave to the Massachusetts legislature on January 9, 1961. “Were we truly men of dedication,” Kennedy said posterity would ask about us, “with an honour mortgaged to no single individual or group, and comprised of no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest?”
Kennedy’s definition of dedication strikes at the heart of the quality needed most of all by those engaged in politics and public life. A sense of altruism, of public service, is something that we find in those we most admire in this area. The role that an individual may find him or herself in may be one that involves representing a particular group of people, but outstanding leaders think not merely in terms of sectional interest but of the greater good. Their motives are transparent; they are not secretly beholden to one cause or group; and they are, to use Kennedy’s word, marked by a quality we need to rescue from murky questions about cash for peerages and the like – they are people of honour. We may have different ideas about what the public good consists of, but we can all recognise those who honestly strive to serve it.
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