You’ve Won, But Are You Willing To Lead?

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Kathleen Schafer

The confetti has fallen, the balloons have been released and the adoring crowds are gone. The moment that every candidate hopes to face is here—victory. Yet, this the point at which successful candidates must pivot from election year warrior to genteel statesman or woman. The challenge for so many elected officials is that they rarely experience this transformation and our nation is left with legislatures full of rowdy candidates rather than thoughtful leaders.

Winning an election and governing are two different tasks that require not only different skills but also a shift in perspective between viewing every occurrence as a possible attack and seeing through the smoke to find a common way forward. Just as a skilled fighter doesn’t wield his sword at every noise around the village campfire, so too must our legislators learn to release the adrenaline soaked vitriol of the campaign trail and open up to their colleagues across the aisle. Campaigning to leading is a chasm too few elected officials are crossing and the resulting stalemates are keeping us for addressing the pressing issues of the day.

Politico’s Jonathan Allen said “The status quo prevailed Tuesday night, leaving official Washington to wake up Wednesday to its own version of the deja-vu-all over-again movie Groundhog Day.” The last thing this country needs is a repeat of the past two years of gamesmanship. Time again candidates on the stump talked of the need for bipartisanship, for forging solutions crafted from common ground and for actually talking with rather than at those from the other party. Convenient ideas when voters are staring one in the face, why then does it cease to be practiced after the ballots are cast?

Leadership, unlike candidacy, is a consistent practice taking action based on one’s values day in and day out. As John Wooden said, “the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” As Americans return to their political ad free television and the waning glare of the election spotlight, can these officials see the value in leading beyond partisan politics and the vehemence of their leadership intent on supremacy? For Republicans will political leadership come by releasing the need to control personal issues legislatively and acknowledging on-going economic disparity in the tax code doesn’t create a vital economy? Will Democrats reflect on long-term consequences of unfettered benefits for public unions and social programs? And can Americans find in themselves the power to not only change issues on the ground, will we continue to hold our elected officials accountable for the actions in or out of the spotlight?

Ultimately, the public holds the trump card. We have the power to participate beyond biennial or quadrennial elections. We can choose to turn off media that incites anger, disparages others and twists the truth. We can take action to address issues of concern in our communities and we can lead the way by reaching out to others to find ways of coming together to create real world solutions.

It is exciting to stand in the glow of democracy. Win or loose, there is a deeper feeling of connectedness to something much great than ourselves. The United States of America is the beacon of freedom and millions of people throughout the world would love the chance to have free, fair and peaceful elections. Having worked with leaders in many such countries, I am humbled by the tremendous gift bestowed to us in this nation.

It is for this reason, that I have dedicated my life and work to improving the quality of leadership across this country and throughout the world. We have the power to change our world, to create harmonious communities, not homogeneous ones. And it the same power that our elected leaders have when they walk into the halls of government. We are not asking them lay down their values for expediency—we are asking that we find the core of the values shared by all and start move forward from that point.

Leadership is a choice and an opportunity to put one’s love into action. Love is what inspires us to do better and to be better. In the Congress and in statehouses throughout the nation, little love or inspiration is apparent. What is needed is an atmosphere where creativity and cooperation abound, where leadership is the means to an end and where candidates park their competitiveness at the door and enter with a sincere desire to create real world solutions.

The next two years are a blank slate and it is up to each incumbent to decide to lead or to keep campaigning. For those that choose the former, the road to reelection is not the goal and in letting it go it will actually be easier to achieve two years from now.

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