Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Leadership Traits for Congress

What makes an ideal member of Congress? I intend to explore what mix is needed to get the perfect Senator or Representative. For my discussion I will be referring in this post to the official list of Leadership Traits from the Marines. They worked well for me for 22 years. Right up front I admit that I am skeptical of whether a politician really can live up to the lot of these. But in all fairness we expect our Marines to live up to them on a daily basis.

Leadership Traits are nothing more than personality or character traits that make up a person. When you combine leadership traits into tasks you get leadership principles, which we will cover in a day or three. At the end of this post is the official USMC page devoted to this topic. I left the definitions intact along with the suggestions for improvement. I added a Congressional Spin to each.


Definition: Justice is defined as the practice of being fair and consistent. A just person gives consideration to each side of a situation and bases rewards or punishments on merit.

Suggestions for Improvement: Be honest with yourself about why you make a particular decision. Avoid favoritism. Try to be fair at all times and treat all things and people in an equal manner.

Congressional Justice: While each Member is part of a party, justice requires that you consider the opposing view and weigh the pros and cons based on facts and not who contributed to your campaign or which committee appointment you would like.


Definition: Judgment is your ability to think about things clearly, calmly, and in an orderly fashion so that you can make good decisions.

Suggestions for Improvement: You can improve your judgment if you avoid making rash decisions. Approach problems with a common sense attitude.

Congressional Judgement: Good Judgement means that you make the best decision you can within the time allotted based on all the facts. Like Justice, your decision or your good judgement will come from a strong sense of your own core values, the facts at hand, and a healthy dose of reality.


Definition: Dependability means that you can be relied upon to perform your duties properly. It means that you can be trusted to complete a job. It is the willing and voluntary support of the policies and orders of the chain of command. Dependability also means consistently putting forth your best effort in an attempt to achieve the highest standards of performance.

Suggestions for Improvement: You can increase your dependability by forming the habit of being where you're supposed to be on time, by not making excuses and by carrying out every task to the best of your ability regardless of whether you like it or agree with it.

Congressional Dependability: You simply have to be there to do your job. Adopt the attitude that all votes are key votes. Don't make the mistake of believing dependability means you can always be counted on to follow the party line.


Definition: Initiative is taking action even though you haven't been given orders. It means meeting new and unexpected situations with prompt action. It includes using resourcefulness to get something done without the normal material or methods being available to you.

Suggestions for Improvement: To improve your initiative, work on staying mentally and physically alert. Be aware of things that need to be done and then to do them without having to be told.

Congressional Initiative: This should be the easiest trait for a Politician to master. You got elected at least party based on issues. So, attack those issues. Find out what is being done and get involved. If nothing is being done, don't follow the herd, start the stampede.


Definition: Decisiveness means that you are able to make good decisions without delay. Get all the facts and weight them against each other. By acting calmly and quickly, you should arrive at a sound decision. You announce your decisions in a clear, firm, professional manner.

Suggestions for Improvement: Practice being positive in your actions instead of acting half-heartedly or changing your mind on an issue.

Congressional Decisiveness: Like the definition above says, weigh everything you have access to and make the call. Sometimes things will change and you will have to adjust. OODA is a military acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It is a never ending cycle. When you begin to Act you are simultaneuosly Observing and preparing to re-orient yourself to the changing reality. The best quote that exemplifies being decisive is: "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


Definition: Tact means that you can deal with people in a manner that will maintain good relations and avoid problems. It means that you are polite, calm, and firm.

Suggestions for Improvement: Begin to develop your tact by trying to be courteous and cheerful at all times. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Congressional Tact: If I had to lose one this would be it. You are required to tell the absolute good, bad, and ugly without being deliberately offensive. Do not undermine courage, integrity, or judgement due to tact. For the Congress, this means that while politeness is a mark of bearing, don't become so enamored of a well turned phrase that you lose the message.


Definition: Integrity means that you are honest and truthful in what you say or do. You put honesty, sense of duty, and sound moral principles above all else.

Suggestions for Improvement: Be absolutely honest and truthful at all times. Stand up for what you believe to be right.

Congressional Integrity: This is it, the single most important character trait of a leader. If you have no integrity, then everything you do is tainted. Integrity means that the truth is more important than politics as usual. It also means that you don't parse your words so that you can "Lie the Truthful way". IF you ask about the definition of "is", then you might need to work on this.


Definition: Enthusiasm is defined as a sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of your duties. If you are enthusiastic, you are optimistic, cheerful, and willing to accept the challenges.

Suggestions for Improvement: Understanding and belief in your mission will add to your enthusiasm for your job. Try to understand why even uninteresting jobs must be done.

Congressional Enthusiasm: This should be obvious. Why be an Elected Representative if you don't love it? How stupid is it to do something you hate continuously? If you don't love getting up every day and going to work (which philosophically speaking is the peoples business) then go home. Enthusiasm is contagious and is like a shot of Nitrous to the other traits.


Definition: Bearing is the way you conduct and carry yourself. Your manner should reflect alertness, competence, confidence, and control.

Suggestions for Improvement: To develop bearing, you should hold yourself to the highest standards of personal conduct. Never be content with meeting only the minimum requirements.

Congressional Bearing: Being presidential in both appearance and deportment is a must. Being able to do what is needed while radiating calm, and confidence is inspiring. In other words do not lose your bearing and tell a member of congress to fuck off on or off the record


Definition: Unselfishness means that you avoid making yourself comfortable at the expense of others. Be considerate of others. Give credit to those who deserve it.

Suggestions for Improvement: Avoid using your position or rank for personal gain, safety, or pleasure at the expensive of others. Be considerate of others.

Congressional Unselfishness: I'm not sure that any pol can be unselfish. It is so culturally ingrained to make the deal, get the money, etc. It's not realistic to expect it yet. But I think it is realistic to put out the requirement and then make a focused effort to train them to standard.


Definition: Courage is what allows you to remain calm while recognizing fear. Moral courage means having the inner strength to stand up for what is right and to accept blame when something is your fault. Physical courage means that you can continue to function effectively when there is physical danger present.

Suggestions for Improvement: You can begin to control fear by practicing self-discipline and calmness. If you fear doing certain things required in your daily life, force yourself to do them until you can control your reaction.

Congressional Courage: There's not much I can add to the official line. A Congressman must have the courage of his or her convictions no matter what the party line is. The song says that you've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything. Tests of courage for elected officials is to see who or how they explain negative publicity. Other tests are when they break ranks because it's the right thing to do (not just seeking soundbytes).


Definition: Knowledge is the understanding of a science or art. Knowledge means that you have acquired information and that you understand people. Your knowledge should be broad, and in addition to knowing your job, you should know your unit's policies and keep up with current events.

Suggestions for Improvement: Suggestions for Improvement: Increase your knowledge by remaining alert. Listen, observe, and find out about things you don't understand. Study field manuals and other military literature.

Congressional Knowledge: To the Freshman Congress Critters: Learn everything you can about anything at all related to your job. It means that you must know the ethics manual cold, you must know the key provisions of bills you vote for/against. It means that you must burn some late night oil boning up on events so that you cannot later claim you were fooled.


Definition: Loyalty means that you are devoted to your country, the Corps, and to your seniors, peers, and subordinates. The motto of our Corps is Semper Fidelis!, (Always Faithful). You owe unwavering loyalty up and down the chain of command, to seniors, subordinates, and peers.

Suggestions for Improvement: To improve your loyalty you should show your loyalty by never discussing the problems of the Marine Corps or your unit with outsiders. Never talk about seniors unfavorably in front of your subordinates. Once a decision is made and the order is given to execute it, carry out that order willingly as if it were your own.

Congressional Loyalty: This is a conundrum. I've been saying all along that party loyalty is second to some of these traits. And yet, if you (as an elected official) are not loyal to your constituents and to an extent your allies, you may lose the next election. I would caution that you place your loyalty after due consideration of the effect it will have for you to do well by your constituents. Once you've placed your loyalty out there, don't back down unless it would require you to breach your own integrity.


Definition: Endurance is the mental and physical stamina that is measured by your ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship. For example, enduring pain during a conditioning march in order to improve stamina is crucial in the development of leadership.

Suggestions for Improvement: Develop your endurance by engaging in physical training that will strengthen your body. Finish every task to the best of your ability by forcing yourself to continue when you are physically tired and your mind is sluggish.

Congressional Endurance: Means you stick to it until you get it done. You go the extra mile and slog it out. It might mean reading the last hundred pages of a bill to (fill in the blank) in order to satisfy yourself that it is right and proper because the vote is first thing in the morning.

Please remember that I don't honestly believe any pol can live up to these standards. But I damn sure expect them to try. The reason I am actively trying to throw out ideas to help the current office holders succeed is that I want results. I and the rest of the McUSA family are pretty disgusted at the last Congress who had a clear majority and did nothing with it. Just politics as usual isn't a leaders path. Instead it is a well worn rut.

"Because it is important to always be able to remember the basic leadership traits, the acronym "J.J. DID TIE BUCKLE" is used. Each letter in the acronym corresponds to the first letter of one of the traits. By remembering the acronym, you will be better able to recall the traits." - From the same website where I pulled the above traits.

The USMC version

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