Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lessons on the Hill


I just got back from a week in Washington DC. I met with 12 US Representatives, 1 US Senator, and staff assistants for 8 other congressional members. It was a busy, exhausting week.

I am always impressed with how our government works. I appreciate the access that citizens can have to their representatives. I love the energy that you feel in the halls of the Capitol buildings and throughout the town. And I enjoy watching the churning of issues and ideas as they play out between constituent groups and those who represent them.

As ususal I had my fair share of screw-ups within this arena. Despite the fact that we have thousands of projects, I should have been better prepared in order to know the details of the one project in the hometown of one of the Members (just the Leader of one of the Houses of Congress -- ouch!). I should have known that the follow-up question to our presentation to another Member on a landmark study we had just completed would be...did you bring me a copy of that study? Ouch, again. And finally, I should have done my homework on one of our projects with a cost overrun and been prepared to account for what had caused it and how we could recover.

Yes...bruised from these sorts of setbacks but...never defeated! Most of the visits went very well. At that level of interaction, I have found the following to be keys to success:

-- Be prepared. Know the issues and be ready for questions.
-- Be ready to talk fast and, if necessary, to talk on the move.
-- Have an agenda. Know what 1 or 2 key points you must cover.
-- Have a "Leave Behind" packet of information that summarizes (very succinctly) your key points.
-- Leverage your experts. If you don't have all the answers, bring people who do.
-- Be confident. Know that you are an expert on your respective topic...and your audience is not! And know that they are regular folk -- just like the rest of us!
-- Be situationally aware. Have a feel for what are the hot issues of the day and the context in which you are making your pitch.
-- Do a quick huddle before you go into the office and review your approach. Then huddle afterwards and make sure you all heard the same thing and captured any key take-aways.

As with everything else, I learned a number of lessons that will make me a better leader and my organization a more effective one. And despite my foul-ups, the good far outweighed the bad! Our meetings went well and I believe we remained in the good graces of those we serve (in government). Just as importantly, I finished the week with confidence that those who serve us (as government) are good, well intentioned people doing their best to represent us and make a difference in this critical period in our nation's history.

It's good to be home. But last was good to be learning lessons up on the hill. That's Leader Business.

1 comment:

Duane Davis said...


Great lessons there in life, as well as in business and leadership.

2 points I liked best: First, leverage your experts - excellent advice that a lot of us are guilty of overlooking. Second, the 'leave behind' pack is a great idea. You can still be delivering your message after you have finished talking.