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As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these 12 Southern California fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

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When Michelle Rhee was appointed chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools system in 2007, she celebrated her pledge to improving the quality of DC's failing schools in a peculiar way: she closed 23 schools, fired 36 principals, and cut over 120 jobs from the central office staff -- all in her first year. In response to a bewildered, at times furious, public response, Rhee stood her ground, reiterating that keeping the most ineffective parts of the system would only hinder a pursuit to reform DC's educational system.

Like Rhee, the Democrats made an unpopular decision to reach what they deemed to be a higher-priority goal. The consequences of their actions are evident: pro-choice proponents are livid at their loss, and despite what happens to the bill in Senate, the treatment of reproductive rights as expendable will taste just as sour in a month as it did on Saturday night.

A five-vote final margin, however, reveals the stakes of the situation, one that even pro-choice advocates can understand. As Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter stated, "I don't believe any of us believe we can hold up what we've been fighting for...and that's health care." Similarly, Rhee sees the stakes of a failing educational system as high as Democrats see this health-care bill.

Sweeping reforms do not garner sweeping support; that is why we charge certain individuals with the responsibility of leading us to an end. Vilifying leaders for prioritizing goals inhibits their ability to do exactly what they were entrusted to do: make decisions. -- Neeta Sonalkar

Three Degrees of Negotiation

Good leaders clearly understand their negotiable and non-negotiable goals before even discussing a compromise.

Great leaders also know the limits of those on the other side of the negotiating table.

Excellent leaders know all that and have already included negotiable goals in the original proposal. If these goals are included in the final outcome, it is an even greater success. If these goals do not make it, that was to be expected.

The moment a leader sacrifices his or her non-negotiable goals, however, authority is undermined and long-term effectiveness is compromised. -- Kelly LaMar


Chess is strategy. The top priority is to checkmate the opponent's king while safeguarding your own. Each army is made up, from most to least significant, of a king, queen, a pair of rooks, knights, bishops, and eight pawns. These pieces characterize the goals that help achieve the top priority.

Pragmatic compromise undermines long-term effectiveness when leaders carelessly surrender their queen and irresponsibly sacrifice their rooks, knights, and bishops. These sacrifices render reaching the top priority, capturing the opponent's king, while not impossible, much more difficult. However, the strategic and carefully considered sacrifice of a rook can lead to stronger tactical positioning.

André Philidor, considered the best chess player in the 18th century, stated "Pawns are the soul of the game. They alone create attack and defense; the way they are deployed decides the fate of the game." With that said, pawns should be sacrificed as necessary to achieve the top priority; all other pieces are to be thoroughly evaluated before they are conceded.

Democrats sacrificed their pawn in accepting a ban on abortion coverage, but healthcare reform passed in the House. Leaders therefore need to recognize what goals can be sacrificed, the pawns, as well as what cannot, the queens. Sacrificing your queen weakens your army - stance - and undermines ever achieving your top priority: checkmate. -- Clayton Rosa

Tear Down Your Wall

Separated by ideology and an unwavering lust to be right, two sides wage a silent war where a wall of pride looms over the citizens who must live with the decisions of their leaders. November 9th marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and while those events remind the world of the value of freedom, there are still many walls left to be torn down even amongst the leaders of the United States. Compromise is critical when making decisions that involve two parties, but the cold fact remains that out of the 220 "yes" votes for the health reform bill, only one of those came from a Republican Congressman. Being able to compromise is the skill of a great leader, but true compromise can only occur if both sides truly have something they both can agree on.

Leaders choose between different paths when dealing with others in order to reach their goal. They may either build walls or create bridges. A compromise is one type of bridge that allows two sides to meet halfway. History has shown that the truly great leaders build potential by reaching out to the other side after grasping what is at stake. John F. Kennedy knew what had to be given up when the Cuban Missile Crisis was threatening humanity's future. At the peak of the Cold War, two sides that completely opposed each other could find some common ground. In that instance, compromise and communication didn't diminish his leadership, but made him more respected.

Good leaders know how to go beyond sacrifice, and dive into a mentality of building to reach compromise. In the months ahead, it will take both Democratic and Republican leaders much courage to actually tear down some of their walls and create something that doesn't give up anything, but builds from the very best of both sides. -- Jimmy Duong

By Coro Fellows

 |  November 10, 2009; 1:31 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The US Congress does not do "Comprehensive" well at all - actually it fails when trying to do "Comprehensive" anything. They would be better doing small things that everyone can agree on first - like various parts of insurance reform and then build on that in later bills. It is a mistake to write 2000 page bill which financially ruins the country and will have dubious value. Start small and build so that you don't have to buy votes with PORK packages.

Posted by: Lavrat2000 | November 11, 2009 1:09 PM
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The bill appears to be a total mess. Right now the game is all about claiming a victory not developing good policy.

Posted by: Albie1 | November 11, 2009 11:19 AM
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No, fellas, look out there: it was the often terrible needs of real low-income women and their families, people -- not some metaphoric pawn or abstract policy
-- that was sacrificed. This is not a game!

Posted by: esthermiriam | November 10, 2009 11:25 PM
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It seems like the general consensus among these fellows is that some goals are expendable in the pursuit of larger ones. The problem with this particular quandary is that it is a hot-button issue and some people would not see protecting a woman's right to choose (or a baby's right to life) as "expendable" goals.

Posted by: willisliz | November 10, 2009 7:17 PM
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Congress is essentially a total and complete waste; everyone of these sycophants is owned by corporate money with very few exceptions! The Republicans are worse than worthless; simply stealing the peoples money for their worthless presence and the Democrats are spineless idiots afraid of the people, but to afraid to offend their corporate money suppliers. What a disgusting bunch of people...and the Senate is by far the worst!

Posted by: Chaotician | November 10, 2009 3:40 PM
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I don't see your distinction between the two. I see "caving in" as synonymous to prioritization, but with a negative spin.

Giving up a "queen" or a "pawn" prioritizes an umbrella issue, no matter what you call it. Although the consequences aren't the same, making a major concession vs making a minor concession is essentially the same thing - prioritization in relation to the larger goal.

I DO agree with you, though, that the dems chose a particularly questionable goal to give up, given their history of using it on the electoral stage.

Posted by: neetaso | November 10, 2009 2:20 PM
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Ms. Lamar, excellent point regarding the three degrees of negotiation. "When a leader sacrifices non-negotiable goals, authority is undermined and long-term effectiveness is compromised."

Posted by: miraclemcclain | November 10, 2009 1:48 PM
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I disagree on this. Even if a ban on abortion coverage was a "queen", it does not directly lead to caving in, or defeat. It just makes the road to victory more difficult.

To use your own phrasing, Democrats "have championed abortion rights for over 40 years"; however, a ban on abortion coverage is a single issue under the umbrella of abortion rights, it is not all of abortion rights.

Posted by: claytonrosa | November 10, 2009 1:25 PM
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"I am curious as to when leaders will be forced to give up non-negotiable goals, sacrificing authority and effectiveness. If leaders want to lead, will this even happen?"

I believe this occurs, unsure of how frequent though. To know when to concede in defeat is important for leaders. It is one thing to admit ineffectiveness, it is another to dwell in ineffectiveness which can be detrimental to the community leaders lead.

Posted by: claytonrosa | November 10, 2009 1:18 PM
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Prioritization, in terms of another poster, means recognizing which issues are pawns and which issues are queens.

Considering dems have championed abortion rights for over 40 years and have won/lost elections on that sole issue, I think its been a priority i.e. their queen.
They gave up one of their most important pieces. They "caved in".

Posted by: Thunderkats09 | November 10, 2009 1:14 PM
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Yes, considering how close the House vote was, one can speculate that more compromises will be made to get passed the Senate.

However, these are sacrifices that play into the ultimate goal. A move was made, let's see what the next one is.

Posted by: claytonrosa | November 10, 2009 1:10 PM
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I agree with Jimmy's statement that both sides have to have something to agree on when compromising. However, if this is true for health coverage, what did the Dems who supported abortion coverage agree on? To move on? Is that really compromise? I don't think so!

Posted by: ANesby | November 10, 2009 1:07 PM
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I appreciated Ms. Lamar distilling the decision-making process into three degrees. I am curious as to when leaders will be forced to give up non-negotiable goals, sacrificing authority and effectiveness. If leaders want to lead, will this even happen?

Posted by: psobhani | November 10, 2009 1:04 PM
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I am an avid chess player. So Clayton, your analogy resonates with me. The ability to know what pieces you can sacrifice to place your opponent in checkmate is key to achieving the end goal. However, the sacrifice on abortion was more than a pond and more like a knight. As the Senate looks to be harsher on the bill, I expect other sacrifices of ‘big’ pieces to hurt the power of the legislation in the eyes of the Democrats. Reflecting on how close the house vote was, what will be conceded to get passed the Senate?

Posted by: frankrod | November 10, 2009 12:59 PM
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Leaders, at times, have to make unpopular decisions. To many, the big picture may be unclear right away but, as Neeta explained, is that not "why we charge certain individuals with the responsibility of leading us to an end"?

Posted by: claytonrosa | November 10, 2009 12:57 PM
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I don't think I implied "congratulation" to any extent. The decision was unpopular for a very good reason, and I don't think the Dems are exactly patting themselves on the back for making it.

Question: How do you differentiate prioritization and "caving in"?

Posted by: neetaso | November 10, 2009 12:50 PM
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Pluuuueeasse. True, prioritizing shouldn't be cause for villification. But this wasn't prioritzing; it was caving in. How many of these sycophantic "democrats" ran on pro-abortion tickets? You can't suddenly frame abortion as peripheral after its been a central issue to so many of these Congressmen. Congratulating them as they wilt in the face of a crazy, ideological opposition is foolish.

Posted by: Thunderkats09 | November 10, 2009 12:38 PM
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I enjoyed Clayton's chess metaphor, and think that the Democrats identified the pawn that would give them the most mileage and allow them to achieve a major objective. They could have sacrificed multiple smaller pawns--taxing benefits, altering Medicare, etc.--and given up numerous concession. This single piece proved to be the linchpin in the dealmaking, allowing both the king and queen--healthcare with a public option--to be secured.

Posted by: seanholiday | November 10, 2009 12:34 PM
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