American newspaper commentator Walter Lippmann defined leaders as "the custodians of a nation's ideals, the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals."
Custodians. The word means a keeper, a guardian, or a caretaker. It is a proactive word that implies action on the part of the bearer. Custodians hold something in trust on behalf of others. It is not a behavior motivated out of self-interest.
A custodian then, is an individual who upholds what is best for all people even if it may not be in their own interest to do so. A custodial role must be approached as a temporary role, preserving something greater than the self—principles of enduring and lasting value. This is an attitude of mind that focuses on the task at hand and not on what the leader may gain from the position. It implies a caring and concerned relationship between leaders and followers; individuals motivated by their constituents' best interests.
This idea seems at odds with what we see happening around us today. In all too many arenas, we see many of our leaders holding nothing in trust for those they purport to serve but advancing only their own ideals and hopes. Today, it is often difficult to tell if our leaders are serving themselves or us. And it is all too common to find leaders simply helping themselves to privilege and power. Mismanagement, deceit, greed, and frying-pan-into-the-fire problem solving all beg the question, "Where are our leaders leading?" "To whom can we look to for the direction we need?" Is Lippmann's statement merely an idealistic, unrealized dream?