Thursday, February 15, 2007

Leadership Principles for Congress

A short while ago I published the individual traits that political leaders should aspire to. Now is the time to take those traits and turn them into tasks. Again, I am drawing from my career as a US Marine to try and point our new Congress into a successful direction. In order to shorten the length of the post I will print the principles verbatim, and my interpretation of them as they apply to politics. The link at the end will allow you to see the "official" version as applied to Marines. Remember, if you think these standards are too tough for politicos, the Marines live them daily. BTW, I am not slamming the other services. But, since I am a retired Marine I reserve the right to work from my comfort zone.

Know yourself and seek self-improvement.

Sounds easy doesn't it? Can you remember the traits and figure out which go into making this important? You cannot be a leader without a style. If your leadership style is fake, it will fail over time. The point is that no one is perfect and you must look inside yourself and identify your strong and weak points. As an elected official you need to be able to face your voters and tell them not only how good you are, but what you are doing to improve yourself.

Be technically and tactically proficient.

Remember the trait of knowledge? Here it is. Technically proficient means that you have the skills to complete a task. Tactically proficient means you can employ those skills in the real world. As a leader you are also supposed to be a mentor or a teacher. You are supposed to groom your replacement. To do that you must be an expert. BTW, this doesn't mean that you must be a certified expert at every possible task. It means that in some areas you have a working knowledge which will allow you to supervise the detail experts without getting the wool pulled over your eyes.

Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates.

You cannot be an effective leader without teamwork. As you assign tasks, prioritize the fires to be put out, and carry out the business of the office you must delegate tasks to your subordinates. They have to own them. When the cats away..... is a truism if you are not a leader. People dodge the boss. People strive to earn the approval of a leader who not only gives you a task, but the latitude to make that task your own.

Make sound and timely decisions.

In the last post I quoted Patton. For an Army guy, he was alright :) This is where judgement, justice, knowledge, decisiveness, and integrity come into play. Just to reinforce the point... "A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite point in the future." Attributed to General George Patton Jr

Set the example.

This in my humble and professional opinion is the single most important of these principles. There is nothing like a positive example to help someone rise to a higher level. It demonstrates by the most influential of communications, deeds, the courage of your convictions. Once upon a time a child could aspire to be the President and it was considered an honorable goal. Now, most folks don't consider politicians honorable at all. There is a saying that deeds, not words, define the person. By openly setting the example of honor, courage, and commitment you (the freshman congress critter) may just cause a bit of a sea change.

Know your Marines and look out for their welfare.

This is a very close second to setting the example. In this instance you are looking out for your staff and your constituents. You need to know the attitude of your constituents on virtually everything. It doesn't mean that you have to do it thier way. Because, we both know that you don't truly work for them. But, by applying your courage, integrity, and knowledge you will vote and do what you believe to be the best thing. And you will be able to explain it without coming across as a hair-splitting politician. By looking out for your subordinates, you will earn trust and loyalty. Remember, they are the ones making you look good or bad. And so you must repay that loyalty and effort with your own.

Keep your Marines informed.

I don't recall. I didn't know. Didn't get the word? Those statements can be the precursor to disaster. Remember that you are responsible, and accountable for everything your subordinates do or fail to do. So, keep them in the loop. If it is a dirty little secret, then you do the dirty work.

Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.

Here is another conundrum. If you seek responsibility you will find it. But if it goes wrong, and something will, you must place yourself in the bullets path. Don't blame a staffer that did something wrong. Remember, if you are observing and practicing the next three principles, then they are speaking with your voice. So, stand up in public and take your medicine. Then if correction or discipline is required do it in private hold them accountable to you.

Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished.

Pretty simple right? Then why do people screw up the tasks they are given. If you keep em informed, and make sure they understand the task it should be gravy right? Here is how to do it. Make each task a personal mission. A mission statement requires three elements.

    First is a Task. A task is a clear statement of the results required. Example:Provide a listing of registered voters to me. Second is Conditions. List any conditions attached to the task that add to or take away from execution. Example: During normal business hours using only government approved sources. Finally is the Standard: The standard will tell the subordinate exactly how he or she will be "graded" or success and failure measured. Example: No later than close of business Friday and the list must be accurate to within 90 days.

So for the above example you would create a short concise paragraph that incorporates all three requirements. For example: Bob, I need you to provide me a list of registered voters. Do all the legwork during normal work hours and use only approved government sources. This has to completed and on my desk by 5:00 pm on Friday and must be current as of the last 90 days.
Bob now has a mission. It is personalized to him so he can take ownership of it. Your final step is to ensure Bob actually delivers it on time and within the standard.

Train your Marines as a team.

It's common knowledge that any politician must have a staff. With all the minutia of the .gov it's a sure bet that his staff is going to accomplish things in his name and not always with his knowledge. In addition to being clear and concise with your expectations you must know that your staff has to coordinate things in your name. You must ensure that they can work well together. Picture a sports team. Many specialized positions working together to score points. Each member of your team must mesh with everyone else. Remember, they will speak with your voice. Everything they do or fail to do is your responsibility. Begin by pair them off and assigning the pair a mission as outlined above. Continue adding moving parts and more people until they work as a unit.

Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities.

Take the last couple of principles and then look in the mirror. Be objective. Figure out the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your team. Do not set them or yourself up for failure by biting off more than you can chew. That doesn't mean you are always going the easy way either. You only get better by stretching yourself. So, look at what appears to be the limit, and push it: Hard.
For the Voters: That's it. Sounds easy doesn't it? I mean, our guys and gals in harms way live these or variants of these every day. As a realist, I don't believe any politician is 100% worthy when measured by these standards. But, I submit that if you can evaluate which traits and principles your guy publically demonstrates you are a lot closer to a vote that is intellectually and morally honest. Thanks for reading.
For the Pols: I bet you think you are living up to these. Well, maybe you are or aren't but I submit that if you can at least make an honest attempt it will show in public even without an events manager to stage them for you. You now have the ball, it's time to score some points. Thanks for reading.

The USMC Leadership Principles page


  1. Phil,
    I think this and the previous post are the best advice I've seen directed at Congrees, well ever.

    Of course since they often do not even read the bills sent to them and they vote on, we can only hope!coff

  2. Thanks. I hope maybe one of them reads this...... yeah I know...... figure the odds right? Thanks again.