These are challenging times and if we ever needed real leaders, well, now be the time. President John F. Kennedy was fond of (mis)quoting Dante but the sentiment is unforgettable and maybe even more pertinent now: “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.” The real quote
What passes for leadership now in the public sector are timidity, passivity and faux sincerity. With acrimony and sanctimony the modus operandi in congress we are happy when a member merely keeps his pants on or her profits public.
Author Jim Collins, who wrote Good to Great and Great by Choice, has studied and written extensively on successful organizations with an intense focus on leadership. While he primarily focuses on what makes transformative and truly effective leaders, some skills are unimportant, even dangerous. These are likewise critical to identify, and equally important to avoid. Personal charisma is exactly one of those traits.
Amiable and charming are sometimes alluring distractions from decisiveness, integrity, and even harsh realism. According to Jim Collins great leaders are “paranoid performers.” They’re always asking, “What if,” and then preparing for it. They think about and anticipate the day of “bad things.”
The biennial and quadrennial debate between those described (usually by the other side) as idealists vs. those who consider themselves far more practical about our political system is happening again, maybe with more ferocity than ever before. From tea partiers to disillusioned democrats, whether one should vote for the forecasted winner, despite their sometimes considerable liabilities, in order to further the power of a particular party, is weighing heavy on many peoples minds.
Denny Heck, the winning Democratic candidate in the 3rd District Primary, scored 32% or 44,700 votes, out of 139,000 votes cast. When adding the Republican vote totals (R candidates- 73,700) and comparing it to the votes cast for Democrats (Heck and Crist -60,700) it is clear that candidate Heck has clearly not resonated with voters in the 3rd District. If Mr. Heck wants to win this tough race, he needs to inspire the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. He has not done that to date, as evidenced by Cheryl Crist's strong showing (30% of Denny's vote with 3% of Denny's money.
A good start could be to say he would vote only to bring our troops home, and spend not one cent for continued foreign wars.
Three recent local issues - the use of lap tops at Olympia City Council meetings for private conversations, political assumptions by Jeff Kingsbury during his campaign for re-election, and the arrest of Joe Hyer for possession and selling of marijuana - all point to excessive arrogance by these elected city officials. But their apparent disregard for community concerns and values were given tacit but ample encouragement by how local citizens view and treat not just these politicians but political leaders in general.
As a public we contribute to the politician's sense of self-importance, which often gets expressed through acts of arrogance.
Arrogance, or hubris, often regarded as "the pride that comes before the fall", frequently is the underlying attitude of actions that contribute to the demise of many a public official and/or celebrity.
Beginning I’m sure with the origin of our species, but identified and written about so profoundly in Greek tragedy and law, hubris is as much a problem today as it was a millennia ago.
Last fall, during the isthmus hearing process we learned that certain members of our city council were flirting with each other, ridiculing witnesses, setting up appointments with the lawyer for the developer, seeking a “second” for a motion and doing the public’s business – in private. The actions were likely illegal, and certainly a violation of public trust. These elected officials, showed no contrition or even awareness of what the fuss was about.
In the summer, then-Councilmember Kingsbury was absolutely convinced that the town didn’t care about the isthmus (and apparently instead did care about the lake), and believed he was going to easily win the primary. He was so confident in his own popularity that he misjudged or chose to ignore strong public sentiments.
With the arrest of Joe Hyer, and his subsequent admission of guilt today there is a proliferation of pontificating, proselytizing and politicizing in town and in the blogosphere.
However, the important issue is not the motivation of any “informant”, the political intentions of the sheriff and prosecutor, nor the potential damage to Joe Hyer's political ambitions or career. The real issues are the sustained damage to the fragile relationship between voters and our elected civic leaders and the violation and loss of expectations and trust.
Our community's stability depends not on the veneration of our elected officials but on the bond that develops when citizens give support to other citizens to represent and act on their civic interests. This lamentable situation, like so many others involving political leaders, undermines that special relationship and jeopardizes the commitment and hope of creating a more respected government and prosperous community. It's the voters and the community who suffer from the incredible lack of judgment of a person who had been a respected political figure.
When a public official makes many contributions to his/her community and brings intelligence and foresight to public debates the situation may be emotionally harder but no more ethically complex.
A criminal violation is the ultimate act of selfishness in that one’s lack of discipline and self control results in the chasm that already exists between the public and their representatives growing even larger.
It should not be lost that for progressives who believe in a vibrant and active government, who will not see many electoral or policy successes without INCREASED public trust and confidence in their government, suffer perhaps the greatest impact from the damage done by another failed public official. Conservatives actually work to achieve reduced trust and confidence in our public institutions.
I am now, and have always been a democrat…but find it harder and harder to be a Democrat. I believe strongly in the positions and values the Democratic Party has fought for over the last few generations and dedicated my professional life to those principles.
Politics has, for me, always been a means to an end, the necessary evil in a democracy needed to secure more compassionate and effective public policies and a just and effective government. For many in the Party politics seems to be the end in and of itself. The Party now seems to be comprised of “party people”, interested much more in the party part of the exercise (read: club) than they are in the values and issues.
How do I know this? By looking at the party platform – ostensibly the mission statement, constitution and bible of the Party all wrapped into one. The Party itself says exactly this right there in the platform: “We believe in putting our Democratic values into action and we encourage every citizen to join us in local civic involvement. We welcome support of our platform and help toward improving our quality of life and strengthening our democracy. We adopt this platform to ensure that voters, candidates for public office, and public officials understand and support our goals.” (Emphasis added)
When did perceived electability become the paramount consideration when deciding who to vote for? And when did personal affluence and insider status become the definition of electability? When did the campaign cognoscenti become so cynical about what voters really want in their elected leaders? And when, and under what authority have Party leaders discarded the very values and principles that underlie the Party, and are in fact are the entire reason that I and many others vote for Democratic candidates and support Democratic initiatives?
So the campaign to replace Brian Baird and represent us in the 3rd District has begun in, well, earnest.
We already have our first possible criminal violation when the Governor pimped for Mr. Heck and leaned on contributors, during a legislative session, to lend a hand to Denny.
We have campaign websites up (boy, what did we poor uninformed constituents do before campaign websites?) which inform us not at all and seem to be merely a digital conduit for money transfers. When looking at Mr. Heck’s website tonight I could find ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about how he feels about any issue. In fact there nothing on there about why he wants to represent us – save for his 20 yr old elective service and his savvy investing.
I think what’s most troubling about this process is that the standard that many (i.e., Governor, Thurston County Democrats, prognosticators, etc) apparently hold when determining who to support is not at all who will be the best for the community, will serve with integrity and has a strong record of (current) commitment and involvement on at least some of the complex issues of our time. No, the standard is simply who is likely to win. And even there that assessment is made using antiquated, and failed, notions of what makes a winning candidate.
Here’s a quaint idea: how about we have a real debate, hold the candidates responsible to tell us how they feel about certain issues and would likely vote (at least on issues we know are already on the congressional table), and have them tell us WHY they want to represent us BEFORE endorsements.
I have been writing for some time now about how important it is to hold very high standards when we hire the people campaigning to represent us: how important it is to create an environment where the best and brightest amongst us desire to commit themselves to public service; how we need to create and sustain an electoral process which encourages and nourishes our Democracy by freely and safely debating all the important issues within a context of integrity and gracious space.
Well, the election is over…thank goodness, and while the paper, this and other blogs, and all of the recreational pundits will read various messages into the results one thing is clear: the winners now have to govern. Now is the tough part.
I want to share with all those who were successful on Election Day, and all those who were maybe lucky enough not to be up this year, a lesson I learned from serving on the school board.
On a recent airplane trip I read about a study done by business consultant Michael Losada and psychologist Barbara Frederickson (see www.thesunmagazine.com May ‘09) where they articulated far better than I ever could exactly why some organizations often fail so spectacularly and why other organizations are often so successful. From my tenure on the school board, and as made so clear by the study, I can share lessons learned as to why the board is so often dysfunctional and unproductive. I strongly believe that the same lessons can be illustrative for all policy making groups (i.e., city council, BOCC, state legislature, etc).
At the school board, and as the study found as is so often the case in almost all low functioning organizations, the “positivity ratio” (ratio of positive to negative statements) is often less that one to one. The high performing organizations have a ratio of 6-to-1, meaning that for every one negative statement they had six positive ones. This is neither mere pop business psychology nor of small significance. People on high performing teams had an even balance between asking questions and advocating for their own points of view. They also spent an equal amount of time focusing outward (i.e., in public boards situations, toward the public) and inward within the group.
Alright, alright, you would think by now I would learn the countless penalties for procrastination. Maybe I am still holding out for in-person voting again… Anyway, one serious downside to not voting as soon a the ballots arrive is the cavalcade of tree killing, often unrecyclable (I guess their promises for sustainability as a governing priority apply only if they are elected), flyers which arrive in the mailbox everyday spewing campaign rubbish, at best.
I received two recently telling me -first that Kingsbury was the ONLY one supporting the lake, and then Sermonti also saying the he is really the lakes’ savior. Of course what each fails to tell the reader is that the future of the estuary is a STATE decision. The city in fact has no jurisdiction, and will play an advisory role (at most) – WITH 8 OTHERS. What do claims and appeals like this say about what these candidates think about the voter’s intelligence?
Then I received no fewer than 3 separate flyers with the candidates claiming they are the true heir to Mr.’s Hunt, and/or Williams or Ms. Fraser. I even received one with the candidate’s arms literally around Hunt and Fraser. This candidate, it seems no coincidence, appears to have but one issue she cares about and is rumored to have been recruited by the capitol crew because they don’t want their view obstructed. With all due respect to Hunt, Fraser and Williams, I’ll make up my own mind thank you. I don’t need you telling me who you like. In fact I look with great skepticism at candidates whose main pitch seems to be that “…see they are telling you to vote for me”. I know the standard that these office holders appear to have for their endorsement. It’s often anything but thorough or based on whom they believe would truly represent the public interest.