Risky Business – I Recommend It


My stomach has announced:  the election is nearly here.  My first memorable campaign was 1969, when I was in 5th grade. I could hardly sleep leading up to my dad’s mayoral election. He lost.  And those stomach pains gave way to the peculiar physiological process we call crying – whatever tightness was held in my stomach came out in gasps and tears that felt unceasing.  This time it’s not my dad nor my wife, but just my president.  I guess I’m still part of the “body” politic.

Some of my law students are interested in politics, and at lunch on Friday two young women talked about how the loss of all semblance of privacy deters them from pursuing aspirations to change the world through politics.  Then Jennifer and I spoke yesterday at Berkeley United Congregational Church on the topic of “faith and politics.”  I reflected out loud on the concerns of those two women.  I wished I could have said, “it’s really not that bad,” but I honestly couldn’t.  It’s tough stuff.

Politics is about leadership. And leadership is about risk taking.  It’s about making friends but assuredly making enemies the minute you take out petitions and stake out positions. So, with knotted stomachs and knowing tomorrow night that there will be winners but also tear-shedding losers, we should appreciate the risk takers.  If you know some who’s chosen to serve, send them a note, give ’em a call; encourage them.  (That’s one thing that leaders, i.e., you and I, do, we encourage the heart.)  Hating on politicians might feel good — and I promise there will be comments today about why people are justified in hating politicians — but it hardly helps us move the ball down the field.

On the other hand if we want better politics, we can start with ourselves.  When so many want to either fight about politics or take flight from it, we need people to take the risk of engaging others in a civil way.  In this divided time we need people to stay in the fray or jump in and push for facts, for civility, and for the courage to take action.  And make no mistake, when it comes to the tough issues, like reducing our debt and deficit, the answers will be painful for nearly everyone and thus unpopular.  Although the winner is not certain, on Wednesday what appears certain is that we will have a divided house – literally and figuratively.  If we expect them to act with civility and common sense, perhaps we need to take the risk of staying involved and modeling such behavior ourselves.

When you think about your political activity, do you:

Lead with your best self?



  • Dan,

    Sorry to see how you cannot remain objective in your column from a political perspective. I know your wife was the Democratic governor of Michigan but I was hoping that you could just keep your column non-political since I believe you have some very important ideas to share. It seems you cannot do so as I have observed particularly this past year. My appeal to you is to let go of the politics in this leadership blog and deal with the underlying issues of leadership that I have seen you explain and suggest so well over the years.


    • Glenn,
      Thanks for the kind words, and what I take as an effort to inspire me to rise above.
      Do I have to? 🙂
      I’m sorry if you can’t see past my humanity — yes I almost always vote Democratic – to the message which is so overwhelmingly NON-partisan. So, let me be clear for you and anyone else who gets to the comments: I am THRILLED that Republicans and Independents step forward to make a difference, to run for office, to serve as best they can. I am grateful that people run. It’s hard work.
      Let us speak our minds. Let us speak facts. Let us be civil.

  • Leadership is needed in politics, the workplace, the family, and any institution or gathering of humans. There is only a slight touch of political perspective in today’s column, and that only if one adds to it the publically known political positions of Dan and Jennifer to the faith and politics topic and the invasion of privacy topic.

    Faith and privacy are leadership issues/ topics. This is true in every country of the world. I want to see some examples of political perspective and their relation to leadership, along with the examples from Dan’s family, work and teaching situations. Case examples are important to illustrate principles and theories in all areas of study. I do not mind reading about his or Jennifer’s political perspective as part of the mix. It helps explain the underlying leadership issues.

    On Civility: Civility is often put in terms of: “It is not what you do, but how you do it.” This I think avoids the substance of civility. One may in polite terms destroy another person. I have known any number of phoney’s, who’s good manners and charm have let them into important places. They hurt people wrongly, but their charm lets them get away with it. A large part of the population falls for charm, no matter the lies and mind games the charmer may play.

    In politics, is it civil to filibuster bills in the Senate under the 60 vote rule? Is it civil to gerrymander voting districts?

    One recent political exmaple I have heard is with fact checking politicals advertising is studied. In one case, the “facts,” in an ad were completely debunked, but the campaign manager refused to remove the ad saying that he would not, because it was his most effective ad. It is not civil to run lies, because they stir the public.

  • Dr. Don Beck, one of the
    co-author’s of Spiral Dynamics, has been active
    in studying political races, elections, and values
    since doing his PhD work. He’s still active at 75
    and still making a real difference around the world.

    If you have time, would you complete this short
    survey on your political views, in order to complete
    this important study of values, and how it is affecting
    America and the World.

    Dr. Don Beck is conducting an important US Presidential
    Campaign survey until November 6. Please help Don get
    a wide cross-section of US voters to participate in the
    survey, which only takes about 15 minutes to complete.

    We’re asking only US residents to take the survey, but
    if non-US residents wish to do so, there’s a place where
    we ask for the zip code or country.

    Here’s the link: http://www.valuesandculture.org/

  • I agree with Mr. Autry’s post. Also, when leading from where you are, do so as a uniter, not a divider. I hope, that whoever is elected to the Presidency of the United States, they are able to unite this country in what I see as a modern day “reconstruction”.

  • Gosh! Did I miss something? I thought the topic of today’s column was about encouraging people to serve in public office, and encouraging those who do serve, because it’s a tough job–as Mr. Mulhern has observed in his personal life.

    Seems to me that if we hate someone’s behavior (criticize them for being divisive by sharing their perspective), then it’s best to not replicate their behavior (and point out that your perspective is different). This is not the basis for civil conversations. In my opninion, it’s best to follow Krista Tippett’s questions in her Civil Conversations project: What makes you a little bit uncomfortable about your position on controversial issues, and that of those who agree with you? What do you admire in the perspective of those who disagree with you? Like, let’s be honest, maybe each side has some points, and maybe there are some other points that neither side is paying any attention to!

    A la “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” maybe we should learn to have reservations about someone’s behavior or belief system, but still treat the person with respect, as an intelligent, competent, caring individual whose life experiences have caused him or her to form a different opinion from yours. How’s that for a concept?

    In terms of getting involved in government service, one doesn’t have to start in an elected position. There are plenty of boards and commissions which are appointed by city councils, county commissions, governors,and various federal agencies. This is an excellent way to serve as an ordinary citizen, interacting with those who serve to carry out various governmental directives, and to see how government works firsthand. No need to have the media investigate every last moment of your life for any small transgression. No need to form a committee to elect, print up brochures, buy advertising, knock on doors, and (of course!) raise money. Just plain old public service, entirely uncompensated. If one does choose to run for elected office some day, at least it shows a commitment to serve (not just hanker after perceived power).

    That was a great survey! I have recommended it far and wide. It seems to be based on the Range Voting or Score Voting election reform proposal, one that does not violate the impossibility theory, and gives voters the option of indicating not just which candidate they prefer, but how much they prefer that candidate. Thus, if I like candidate A a little more than candidate B, I could rate candidate A as 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, and candidate B as 3 on the same scale. Someone else might rate candidate A as 5 and candidate B as 1 or even No Opinion (since it’s often kind of hard to figure out who to vote for in some of these nonpartisan races where there’s not much information on the individual). A third voter might give candidates A and B scores of 1 or zero, rating candidate C a 5. The one with the most points wins! This shows the winner the strength of third parties without allowing third-party candidates to be “spoilers.”

    In my opinion, this process is well described in William Poundstone’s _Gaming the Vote_. (I’m not related to him or acquainted with him.) I recommend it for a divisive nation that seems to continue to elect rich white guys in ties, because that doesn’t make our legislatures or our Congress nearly as diverse as our actual population and it seems to give very short shrift to minority party candidates and perspectives.

    So… did you guess who I’m voting for in this election? Does it matter in this forum?

  • Dan,

    It is a times like this that we realize that we can no longer walk the proverbial fence! We can never be all things to all people without first being TRUE to ourselves! In Leading with our best selves I have learned that as long as we provide the best information we have people are free to make their final decisions on what works best for them. Leaders are people who think!


  • Dan,
    Clicked on comment and McAfee site advisor came up with the “whoa dangerous site” message!!! Could the title “risky business” be the reason?
    On standing for public office shouldn’t you question the motive of the person standing and what they intend. Remember Hitler was elected!
    As the self proclaimed “home of Democracy” this US election – to an outside observer – is more about splashing the cash and spinning the facts than about truth, reality and real discussions on the terrible problems facing the american people.
    On a light hearted note here’s an old message from Northern Ireland: “Vote early, vote often and get the recently dead’s vote in too!
    May your dreams come true, Dan,
    allthe best to allt he family,
    Love, Phil

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