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Marty Linsky

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 .

Know when to let your members off the hook

Question: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week confronted a dilemma faced by many leaders: whether to step aside when things go wrong. What should be the criteria guiding such a decision? Did Pelosi make the right choice? Should she have offered to resign but let her caucus make the decision? What about Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid?

Nancy Pelosi is the Brett Favre of politics. I'm not much of a fan of either of them, but I don't look forward to watching them disintegrate right before our collective eyes.

Pelosi revealed more than she intended when she announced she was seeking to be re-elected Speaker. What she communicated was that, despite her righteous piety, it is all about her.

Knowing when to walk away is a leadership skill.

Quitting when you are at the top of your game but your troops are too dependent on you is an act of leadership. (Cf. Nelson Mandela.)

And quitting when you are at rock bottom but you have enough distance on yourself to realize that your continuing in office would be a liability for the values you espouse, is an act of leadership. (Cf. Newt Gingrich, Lyndon Baines Johnson.)

Quitting when you are the top of your game to preserve your legacy is a opportunity that few of us will ever have. (Cf. Ted Williams.)

She has become the issue, rather than keeping front and center the issues she says she cares about--such as restoring the Democratic majority and keeping the White House in 2012. Her seeking re-election to the post is another example of her putting herself above her party and, once again, doing what no legislative party leader should ever do: forcing her members to make a bad vote that is likely to haunt them two years from now. It is as if she has learned nothing at all from the debacle. Her tin ear missed the signal that the only people who applauded her decision were the Republicans!

Newt Gingrich, who certainly is as self-absorbed as anyone in politics, announced he was quitting the speakership three days after the disappointing midterm election in 1988. And his Republicans lost five seats, not sixty. Nelson Mandela did not run for re-election when he realized that doing so would perpetuate an unhealthy dependence on him. Lyndon Johnson quit when he realized that he was the issue. (Ted Williams quit with a long home run in his last at bat.)

Love is never having to say you're sorry, as Eric Segal famously wrote. Legislative leadership is knowing when to let your members off the hook.

By Marty Linsky

 |  November 11, 2010; 5:26 PM ET
Category:  Congressional leadership , Failures , Government leadership , Leadership personalities , Leadership weaknesses , Making mistakes , Political leadership , Politics , Self-Sacrifice , Succession , Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It's difficult to accurately comment on this topic (for me at least) without a more full understanding of the overall strategy of both teams (parties).

However, I will say this... United we stand... divided we fall... and while you concern yourself with the color a our presidents skin, maybe there is a more pressing matter that deserves the attention of us all?

Maybe checking the cycle of civilization we are in... realizing ourselves and the trend of thought predominating the society of those who we are currently governing (and being governed by)... so as to insure the sustainability of all that we have built... for the benefit of everyone not only in the short term but for the long as well....

Posted by: TheRookAndQueen | November 17, 2010 9:02 AM
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Politics has changed to an ongoing, never ending electoral game, pausing only to digest each election! The Old Campaign ends when the Polls Close; and The New Campaign starts when the election has been digested or before. The Senate is where the Democratic Weakness Lies; It was the Democratic Controlled Senate which brought Infamy on the Democratic Party, by Senators driving Corrupt Bargains for their Votes, such as Senator Ben Nelson and others! In Politics, one never lets twelve hours go by before answering any and all charges. That Democrats let Days, Weeks, and Months and Years go by without answering Republican charges, which the General Public thinks if they go Unanswered,, There must be something to the charges, No matter how false and and how Obviously Irrational!, if their opponents do not answer to them! How many congressmen did not know this; they seem to have joined in on the Republican Game, for their personal benefit, no matter how much they hurt the Democratic Party, for Personal Opportunism! Lots of Chairmen and Sub-Chairmen were not carrying their weight, Doing Nothing! Nancy Pelosi Needs to clean House and reduce some people in rank; but first make a study of their actions so any actions taken will not prove wrong, like the Shirley Sherrod Debacale, which is why many did not vote! The only way President Obama could have made it up to her and her supporters, is if he had offered her the Secretary of Agriculture Job! President Obama is not used to having to scramble for votes. President Obama, has already admitted that his leadership was at fault, so why continue to try to dump on Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi This is as bad as the Continual Ever More Wild and Irrational Republican Lies and False Charges. These Democrats were not supporting their President, nor their House Speaker! Obama and Pelosi cannot do it alone; they need help from within the Congressional Delegation of the Democratic Party! Lots of People sitting back and waiting for Obama and Pelosi to fail. They might as well be Republicans; these are Crypto-Fascist Republicans, i.e.. Secret Republicans who need to be stopped sucking the Blood of the Democratic Party!

Posted by: Xeno7777777 | November 14, 2010 3:42 AM
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The Democratic Party allowed hours, days, weeks, months,years to pass, with No answers to Republican Charges; If False Charges are un-answered then the General Public assumes there is some truth in any UN- answered charges! All Democrats, beginning with President Obama, deserve blame for this! Some reluctant half-witted Senators, who tried to tie up the U.S. Senate for personal gain for their states, drug-out the legislative process both for their own State, and for Personal Gain. President Obama failed to insist that his programs be passed before any bailout took place. He should not have approved any George W. Bush Activity of Bail Outs! President Obama stands convicted of Law Professor Collegiality with George W. Buah, and other Law Professor bad habits, such as a lack of urgency! Many Poor People needed those clunkers that President Obama so vaingloriously destroyed! Many Poor People's means of transportation is a clunker; Obama just drove up the price of their Clunker transportation. What President Obama did in this matter shows not virtue, but mindlessness. Many think that Aristotle said that Virtue was a habit, due to mistranslations, what Aristostle really state was that Virtue was an Expertise, not a habit, and that the Cardinal Virtue was Honouring the Holy Spirit of the Truth above all else, and was the Controlling First Virtue, even above Courage, he second ranked virtue! Jesus Holy Spirit follows Aristotle's, and does his forgiveness follows Aristotle's. As for all the Republicans vomiting up their hatred of a Black man and those who dare deal with the Black Man, Man Up and admit that you folks are just plain Old Racists!

Posted by: Xeno7777777 | November 14, 2010 3:40 AM
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obama and polosi are like peas in a pod. It will a great day when obama is removed from office then polosi in 2 more years. She can't survive without obama coat tails

Posted by: vageorge | November 13, 2010 12:20 PM
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