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Marty Linsky
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Marty Linsky

Co-founder of the leadership-focused consulting firm, Cambridge Leadership Associates, Marty Linsky teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authors the advice column, Leadership House Call and blogs at Linsky on Leadership .

They Might Be Giants

What does it mean to be a "giant" in politics? Just bigger than life? Or effective as well?

The good old days were not as full of effective giants as we might imagine. I was in politics in the 60s, 70s, and again in the 90s, and I wasn't blown away by giantness, including most particularly my own. And Teddy Kennedy didn't look much like a "giant" for a great part of his career.

The trajectory of "giantness" is neither straight nor unflawed. It is impossible to predict which of today's Young Turks -- or Old Turks for that matter -- will be looked back upon some day as a "giant" at the end of a career.

Even more problematic, everyone has a different definition of the qualities required. Both Obama and MCain have shown some of the elements of giantness that I look for, such as willingness to absorb the criticism of their own constituencies, take risks on behalf of purpose, and reflect a consistent (but short) set of core values. Senators Robert Byrd and Richard Lugar, on the other hand, have showed some qualities of giantness by trading off high visibility and credit for getting things done.

Furthermore, I see an enormous wealth of potential giantness in the electoral pipeline.

For the past four years, I have been privileged to engage in leadership conversations with about 100 young elected officials from around the country who were selected for the Aspen Institute-Rodel Foundation Fellowship in Public Leadership. They all have "giant" potential. So do many of the local and regional electeds in California that I have worked with for nearly a decade through the Great Valley Leadership Institute, the dozens of elected officials I have worked with in executive programs at the Harvard Kennedy School for over a quarter century, and the County Commissioners I work with each year at the NACO/NYU County Leadership Institute.

Some of them (like the men and women who have won the ELA, the Excellence in State Legislative Leadership Award, given out annually by the Council of State Governments, the State Legislative Leaders Foundation and the National Conference of State Legislators) are already giants in their own arenas, although they do not get national visibility.

Some of them will reach gianthood and be appropriately acknowledged for it. Some, of course, have already been indicted. And some of them, like Teddy Kennedy, will use their fall from grace to achieve gianthood later in their careers.

By Marty Linsky

 |  August 31, 2009; 3:56 PM ET
Category:  Politics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The ability to work with folks from across the political spectrum is a key to giantness. Some people would rather not risk their bona fidels on something that might not be exactly what their core supporters would expound. That limits their potential for greatness.

Posted by: cyberfool | September 1, 2009 1:33 PM
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