Influence is not guaranteed just because you’ve been elected; it is available to the wise, disciplined, reflective and purposeful legislator.
In December of every even-numbered year since our formation in 2007, the Kansas Leadership Center has targeted a very specific niche of potential leaders: those elected to the Kansas legislature for the first time.
KLC’s program for newly elected lawmakers and the accompanying Legislative Planner were designed to help new lawmakers plan and conduct their activity before and during a legislative session. It contains concepts, strategies and tactics—like the ones below—to allow freshmen lawmakers to more effectively lead.
Every session is dominated by a handful of mega-issues. Usually, these can be predicted based on the governor’s agenda or the political or economic context. Most likely you will eventually vote on multiple matters related to these big issues. The sooner you prepare the better.
Despite good intentions, most lawmakers do not have the human capacity to engage deeply in all the mega-issues facing the legislature. Choosing the one, or maybe two, in which you want to leave your mark is important. Every other piece of legislation you care about will eventually connect to these mega-issues. Understanding the mega-issues helps you advance the other things you care about.
Our system of government is designed to make it difficult to enact legislation. Most bills die not because they don’t get enough votes, but because they never make it through the process. Helping shepherd a bill throughout the entire process takes good politics, effective planning and hard work.
Sometimes committee hearings are used to score political points, rather than to help the committee gain a greater understanding of the situation. Caucus conversations tend to be simplistic and one-sided. Similarly, discussions with advocates can be myopic and skewed. Equally important, legislators seldom ask themselves tough questions needed for good leadership.
Take care of yourself.
Leadership in the statehouse takes a toll on the best of us. Purposefully maintain your physical, mental and emotional health/well-being.
Prepare to handle the stress that comes with the statehouse. If others were observing your behavior, how would they know you were valuing key relationships during the session (i.e., would they hear you calling loved ones to chat?) How do you know when your energy is waning? What activities, practices and places revitalize you?
Part of managing yourself when exercising leadership is understanding what you are good at, where you are vulnerable and what can set you off. Then you can deploy yourself in ways most likely to lead to success.
Think of the standard factions or groups in the legislature (e.g. liberals, conservatives, moderates, rural, urban, suburban, Democrat, Republican, etc.) List your strengths, vulnerabilities and triggers and contemplate how to best deploy yourself with each faction.
Finally, a hallmark of great leadership is the ability to relentlessly hold to purpose, which so many legislators fail to do, choosing—probably unconsciously—instead to rush from this to that, to be pushed and pulled in a thousand directions. Our Legislative Planner helps legislators be more purposeful.
Being more purposeful will lead to more leadership and a stronger legacy in the statehouse.