On the surface of leadership | Stephen Smith

When Rob McKenna, Washington state’s attorney general, spoke at the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week, it was refreshing to hear him praise the entire state Legislature for its work in the recently completed legislative session.

We are accustomed to hearing people everywhere disparage elected officials.

It seems that everyone is dissatisfied with government, taxes, the direction our society is heading, and on and on. We hear the right complain about the left, and the left complains about the right. From where I sit, on the surface and on average, I disagree with about half of the people on most issues. Based on the polls, the fights in Congress, and the battles on most issues in our state Legislature, I would suppose you have a similar experience. That is what was so amazing about the attorney general’s praise. He praised the Legislature for passing consumer protection laws with a unanimous vote.

It shows what can be done when people listen and discuss issues before they take a position. Kudos, Mr. McKenna, for your leadership.

On the surface, most of us muddle around in pursuit of solutions from our own perspective - from the perspective of what is important to us. Too often we dismiss what is important to others. I was in a business meeting recently with the participants struggling to be successful in their purpose. Everyone seemed genuine in their efforts, working from their own perspective, but the meeting lacked direction. Then the general manager stood up and took charge. He encouraged the participants to define what was important at the end of the project. He got everyone to listen and define the important outcomes. The team began to make progress with a common set of goals. It was a demonstration of leadership. One significant difference here was a willingness to listen and participate with a leader and help define the desired results.

When we listen, delve below the surface, and avoid unbending positions we can find common ground.

Rollback a month, again at the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce luncheon. One of the Republican candidates for state representative came up to me and introduced himself. It’s campaign season. I asked him how he would handle our bloated budget. He could only point to items with very little impact, and when I called him on this and challenged him to offer the voters something of substance, he smiled and said “I need to get elected.” When I asked how we should increase funding for schools, he talked about new revenue sources. Not believing I heard correctly, I sought clarification: “…you’re in favor of new taxes?”

“It depends,” he said with a smile. I smiled back. I hope it doesn’t depend on if he gets elected.

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