Captain America has been fighting for the United States, and the American way of life, for the last 75 years. The character was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941 and was conceived as a reaction to the actions taken by Nazi Germany during WWII.
The creators acknowledged that Captain America was a politically conscious creation, evidenced by his patriotically themed costume that mirrors the American flag. You don’t have to look much further than the character’s name—Captain America—for more evidence of the creators’ message of patriotism they wanted to convey during that time of war.
However, Captain America was more than just a symbol of patriotism during those difficult times.
Captain America embodied the nation’s values and was a symbol of resilience and hope.
This is why Marvel received so much backlash with the Captain’s retcon as an agent of Hydra. Captain America and his alter ego, Steve Rogers, symbolize all that is good and pure about our nation. From Steve Rogers’ desire to serve his country during WWII despite being initially rejected by the army due to his “weak” frame.
His desire to fight for what was right led him to volunteer for the experiment that gave him his powers and turned him into a super-soldier.
I suppose that Cap’s recent change in allegiance, from American hero fighting for justice to agent of the evil organization Hydra somewhat mirrors the current state of America’s political system. Despite the differences of opinion one had with the nominees of the two major political parties in the past, in the end as a nation we felt that our elected leader had at least a minimum sense of what is right and fair to guide him.
We have always felt that our nation had at least some benevolent line of reasoning for taking actions that may seem unjust or unfair. After all, we have always been the ones to spread democracy, and come to other nation’s aid when they were in trouble. However, that line of reasoning has become more questionable with president Donald Trump.
With his divisive talk about immigrants, minorities, and women, Trump is more akin to Cap’s old nemesis the Red Skull, than to Captain America himself. At least to the classic version of Captain America we have come to love.
America’s decision to vote the GOP candidate, Donald Trump, into office has shown the allegorical transformation of Captain America is a symbol of hope to a symbol of malevolence come to life.
Since obtaining his powers, Captain America has been on the front lines, fighting against the forces of evil. However, he has not just been a mere soldier in the war against injustice but has also been a leader in the military, leading the troops against the Axis of Evil.
He has earned the trust and camaraderie of other heroes which eventually led to him becoming the leader of the Avengers, a team made of Earth’s mightiest heroes, against larger threats posed by supervillains in the Marvel universe.
Captain America, in his deep rooted belief that he is fighting/working for a greater good, embodies all the characteristics of the servant leadership style.
Robert Greenleaf, who founded the theory of servant leadership, stated that the servant-leader is a servant first. Anyone who has read a Captain America comic knows that this description fits both Cap and his alter ego, Steve Rogers to a T. Larry Spears later defined ten characteristics of servant leadership: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.
Captain America exemplifies these ten characteristics every time he leads his team into battle. As a leader, Cap’s levels of awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, and foresight are unparalleled. He often demonstrates both listening skills and empathy towards, not only his team members but extends those to his foes as well.
This is what made Captain America, and by extension, America so great.
The idea of servitude first, such as is inscribed in the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
What is most poignant about Captain America’s servant-leader style, is his desire to make the world a better place. His commitment to stewardship, building community, and growth of people. This is what the servant leadership style is about.
It is unfortunate that in our political landscape, we do not see much of this from the people’s choice of leaders. Dirk van Dierendonck states that “Servant leadership is demonstrated by empowering and developing people by expressing humility, authenticity, interpersonal acceptance, and stewardship; and by providing direction.”
It speaks volumes of our times when we have to look to fictional characters such as Captain America to find these leadership qualities.