One of my personal heroes was the subject of a front page story in this past Sunday's Los Angeles Times. Representative John Dingell was one of my congressmen in a previous position with the Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit and is now the chairman of one of the most powerful committees in Congress. At 81 years old and with more than 50 years of service to the nation and his constituents in Michigan, he is the Dean of the House of Representatives.
His "go-slow" approach on climate change has put him in opposition to his own party's leadership and those who want to radically squeeze the auto industry. But he knows that his constituents (and car drivers everywhere) are counting on him to hear from all sides and to find balance - preservation of the environment without losing jobs.
Politics aside (and that's the only way I operate when I'm talking about leadership!), there is much we can learn from Mr. Dingell about the business of leaders. He is willing to fight for people and for their well-being. He knows that leadership is not a popularity contest - a position that sometimes puts him at odds with most politicians. He thinks big, acts decisively, and does not tolerate fools.
In two years of serving with Mr. Dingell, I learned some very specific leadership lessons that affirmed everything I saw in the LA Times article:
- He is loyal to people and will do anything to help others. Despite his powerful position, our encounters always began with an extended discussion of how he could help me! He truly cares for others.
- He builds coalitions to solve difficult problems. He knows that real balance in problem solving demands that all opinions be heard, and that big issues require facts and analysis, not emotion and hyperbole. But don't think that he will shy away from taking on the difficult issues.
- Mr. Dingell is still giving 'em hell at age 81. While his frame may be a little less strong, his mind is as sharp as a tack. He is still in fighting shape! His sense of humor ("You don't get a baby in 4.5 months by getting two girls pregnant!") is still a great weapon.
I'm not sure what I'll be doing when I am 81. But I can only hope that I am making half the contribution of Mr. Dingell. He is a one of a kind leader - serving others while serving his country. Keep giving 'em hell, Big John! Hooah!