Servant Leadership is a leadership theory based on the concept that leaders should be attentive to their followers’ needs and concerns, and should help nurture and empower them to reach their full potential (Northouse, 2016). By doing so, followers will go beyond what is expected of them, be more fully developed, and positively impact the organization. They will also be more likely to practice servant leadership themselves. All of this not only positively impacts the organization, but trickles out to have a positive effect on the community as well. A servant leader is someone who wants to lead not just for the sake of being “in charge” or having power, but genuinely wants to have a positive impact on others and better serve their community. One of the last people someone might think of when thinking about is a politician, but one of the first people that came to my mind is Pennsylvania State Representative Tarah Toohil.
While Toohil is not my residential district’s state representative, she is the representative in the city that I work in, and I have learned positive things about her over the past few years that make me associate her with a servant leader. One of the most impressive things she has done is help co-found a non-profit agency called Brandon’s Forever Home. Named after her foster brother who passed in a tragic accident, the home serves as a resource hub for foster families and foster children. They routinely work with foster children, making sure they have clothes, personal items, Christmas presents, and a bag of their own so that they don’t have to transport their belongings in garbage bags. They provide a safe place for foster children to come and socialize, providing craft sessions and cooking classes, among other help, all volunteer driven. They just launched a mentoring program also. They also work with people interested in fostering and adoption, and help to recruit and educate families. Both Toohil and co-founder Lorine Ogurkis are attorneys, and the organization provides legal services for people adopting through the foster care system (Brandon’s). According to Kalinowski, Toohil’s life work has been driven by the desire to help change and have a positive impact on the foster care system. She does this not only through the organization, but through her efforts as a state representative, serving on the Children and Youth legislative committee. This desire to have a positive impact is one of the hallmarks of the beginning of a servant leader.
Servant leaders listen to others, have empathy for others, care about their well-being, and help them overcome personal problems (Northouse, 2016). There is no doubt that Toohil does all of these things, not only through her non-profit, but in her every day work. Sometimes our clients (I work in the County Assistance Office, an entity of the Department of Human Services), go to Toohil’s office if they are having issues with their application or benefits in general. Toohil’s office listens to their problem, and seems to genuinely care, as they jump into action immediately, contacting us to get more details and rectify the situation if they can. Toohil also was the reason that Lorine Ogurkis and her husband got involved in the foster system. She convinced them to consider it after fertility issues, and they became passionate about the cause, adopting two children and becoming co-founders of Brandon’s Forever Home, and instrumental in the cause (Brandon’s).
Servant leaders are able to conceptualize – have a vision for an organization and provide a clear sense of goals and direction, being able to see the big picture (Northouse, 2016). The growth and development of Brandon’s Forever Home is a testament to this. Servant leaders also foster the development of community (Northouse, 2016). Brandon’s Forever Home continues to involve various community members, foster children, and former foster children, all whom feel connected and a drive to serve this purpose greater than themselves. Servant leaders also empower others, and creative value for their communities (Northouse, 2016). By providing this space and these services to assist foster children and help them be more at peace, find loving homes, and feel “normal,” even just for a few hours per week, Toohil and Ogurkis are empowering both the foster children and foster/adoptive families, and creating a positive, long-lasting impact on their local community. It is clear that while Tarah Toohil may be a politician, she is foremost a servant leader, determined to have a positive impact on others she works with and her community in general.
Brandon’s Forever Home. About Us. Retrieved from http://www.brandonsforeverhome.com/aboutus.
Kalinowski, Bob. (2016, Feb 21). Legacy of Love. The Citizen’s Voice. Retrieved from http://citizensvoice.com/news/legacy-of-love-1.2009807.
Northouse, Peter G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.