By Candice Benson, Class of 2016
I can hear you groaning now. No, I’m not going to discuss the current political candidates, which gives us hope that the comments section won’t devolve into contentious rantingand name-calling.
The session’s objectives included ensuring we understood New Hampshire’s governance structure, as well as discussion of the role of leadership in the political process.
The first question we participants were asked was, “Would you enjoy holding a political office?” The group responded affirmatively: yes, we want to help our communities. This wasn’t surprising; participants were selected for the program because of our interest in leadership and civic responsibility. I myself have been civically engaged since I was very young – in my family, we were taught these lessons and that you just did it, you gave back to the community. Indeed, all our neighbors did that, too. It was a given.
The next question we were asked was, “How would you feel about running for political office?”
You could practically feel the room shudder at the thought. I felt the sudden urge to take a shower. The response was unanimous: politics and politicians are so…distasteful. The concept of doing what it takes to run for office, campaigning against other politicians, doing the politician “thing” – well, it was repulsive.
That was the crux of the matter: as civic-minded leaders we want to serve our communities, but we don’t want to be politicians. We discussed the sources of our repulsion: the seemingly rampant corruption, self-interest, and scandal we hear about All. The. Time.
And, our frustration at a gridlock. The anger about how our politicians can actually be working for the people if they weren’t actually working together on, well, anything. Where is the civic responsibility? Nope, didn’t want to be a part of that.
The next questions were: What’s next? How is this going to get fixed? Which people are going to work to get it fixed? If not you, who?
With discussion we concluded that standing outside the political engine and commenting (a.k.a. complaining) that it doesn’t run will not change anything. What we need is a willingness to do the work to change the focus from self-interest to the common good.
Recently, I came upon an article about research results stating that power hampers the ability of leaders to work with other leaders. Subjects were separated into groups of “more powerful” and “less powerful” executives. When more powerful people worked on tasks that did not require coordination with others, they performed better than others. However, when required to collaborate with others, the groups of more powerful executives reached agreement only 46% of the time, while the least powerful executives reached agreement 86% of the time.
The groups of powerful leaders performed worse, in part, because their members fought over who should have higher status than others in the group – who should get to call the shots, who should command more respect from others.
From a business perspective, if almost half the time your business leaders were unable to come to consensus to determine the next course of action, would you still be in business?
As a management consultant, I often assume the role of project manager, assuring that the actions required to complete an initiative, and the resources employed to complete those actions, yield fruitful results. If I were unsuccessful nearly half the time, would I still have a job?
In the State of New Hampshire we, fortunately, don’t witness too much dysfunction because our state’s political offices have two-year terms. To continue to hold office, politicians have to run and be voted in again, which results in a higher level of accountability. If you’re not performing, you’re not returning.
In addition, New Hampshire’s government structure includes an Executive Council, which has the authority and responsibility, together with the Governor, over the administration of the affairs of the State. The Executive Councilors ensure those appointed to the executive branch of state government serve the citizens of the State and not special interests, as well as maintain fiscal responsibility.
This system seems to work for us. My fellow Leadership New Hampshire delegates and I have had our minds opened to stepping up to our civic responsibility, to leading for the common good. And I’m good with that.
About the Author:
Candice Benson, PMP®, is an internationally recognized management consultant and CEO of Benson Consulting Inc. She specializes in change management, process improvement, and project management, and has recently completed Change Intelligence (CQ®) certification. Connect with her here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/candicecbenson