Washington’s New Brand of Leadership



Here on Switch and Shift, we talk a lot about the various forms leadership can take. Servant leadership. Empathetic leadership. Motivational leadership. Charismatic leadership. Even autocratic leadership (although, to be honest, we usually give those old-schoolers a lot of crap).

We never, however, talk about the kind of leadership we’re seeing from Washington DC these days: Partisan Leadership.

Now, like you, I want to keep an open mind. I want this stalemate in Washington to work out to the benefit of all Americans. I want our children to look upon elected “leaders” (full disclosure: I couldn’t keyboard this use of the “L-word” word without inserting quotation marks to signify disgust and/or disbelief) as role models and mentors.

So part of me wants to think I’m just missing something. Perhaps there is method to the madness. Maybe there’s some magic in this form of leadership – Partisan Leadership – we can all rally behind, regardless of which side of the aisle we choose to sit. Maybe – just maybe – they know what they’re doing.

So, let’s take a look at Partisan Leadership as a model. Specifically, let’s analyze what appears to be the five commandments of being an effective Partisan Leader:

Do Not Listen (They Might Say Something Smart)

No matter what happens, do not listen. After all, listening implies you are willing to accept input from others – and take into considerations someone else’s feelings for how things out to be resolved. Most important, listening signifies weakness. In the Partisan Leadership model… listening opens doors, and you never know when someone smarter, more sincere and more secure than you will walk right in.

Don’t Communicate, Except Through the Press

Next time you have two departments in your company that aren’t seeing eye-to-eye (Sales vs. Marketing, Customer Service vs. Product Development, HR. vs. well, everyone) do not allow them to communicate directly. Instead, call your local television station and have each lay out there talking points during an interview – preferably on location at a state or national monument. If that doesn’t get it done, escalate. Partisan Leaders are quick to recommend Meet the Press, The Daily Show and Fox News.

Don’t EVER Compromise

Compromise is a virus that infects solidarity. Compromise is a dent in our emotional armor. Compromise is the killer of personal agenda. And if Partisan Leadership teaches us anything, it is that compromise threatens our very existence as leaders, autocrats and holders of control. Compromise… is not an option.

Risk it All For What You Know is Right

The world is full of those who will play it safe. The Partisan Leader must be different. We must be risk-takers, even when our very existence (not to mention our reputation and integrity) is at stake. We must be willing to throw out common sense, decency and everything our ancestors fought for in order to stand on our definition of principle. Most important, the Partisan Leader is steadfast in our belief that our way is the only way; that we will be victorious. We must know that even in the most high-stakes staring contest… the other guy will blink first.

Ignore the Stakeholders

Perhaps the most critical aspect of being an effective Partisan Leader? The refusal to take into consideration the impact our words, actions and decisions have on those who count on us to lead. You and the spouse can’t agree on what to have for dinner? Cook nothing; let the kids go hungry. Your executive team can’t collaboratively decide on how best to handle a situation critical to your employees, even their jobs? Do nothing – and be sure to blame the other side while the furloughs commence. Stakeholders only serve to cripple your resolve. Yes, there will be detractors, protests, angry bloggers and Change.org petitions. Ignore them. Ignore them all.

I’m not saying that Partisan Leadership will work for everyone. I am saying that our leaders in Washington DC aren’t stupid. They must know what they’re doing. They will do their jobs. They will lead this country.

So, for at least as long as the government shut-down continues, let’s play along. Let’s apply the principles of Partisan Leadership to our organizations, communities, teams – even our homes and families.

What do we have to lose… besides everything?


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Image credit: blamb / 123RF Stock Photo


Mark Babbitt is a speaker, author and blogger who serves as CEO and Founder of YouTern, a social community for college students, recent graduates and young professionals that Mashable calls a "Top 5 Online Community for Starting Your Career." He is also President of Switch and Shift and CMO and co-founder of ForwardHeroes.org. Mark is the father of five and a grandfather; he and the woman who tolerates him (barely) call Seattle, Washington home.

  • Dr. Janice Presser

    Partisan leadership – in government or business – creates disengagement and high turnover. Do you think that is what both sides are consciously trying to do to the other side, without realizing how it will affect their side?

  • John Bennett

    How long until April first???

  • William Powell

    Sarcasm. Now you’re speaking my language. This is a great way to present what NOT to do in leadership. Any form of short-sighted driven actions by people in positions of leadership (whether or not they are “leaders” is for another post) will yield poor results.

    A simple look at the response to partisan leadership – culture of cynicism, distrust, low engagement and apathy – is exactly what organizations can expect if they perpetuate/encourage/permit this to take place in their organization.

  • Carol Christen

    Amazing that what you’ve listed as what partisan leadership does is dead opposite of what real leadership does.

  • Mark,

    I love this – it actually brought a smile to my face when I read it in my inbox this morning. What on earth are these clowns trying to accomplish?

    I really appreciated how you tied the ridiculosity in Washington to what too often happens in our workplace. As you well know, I’m a huge railer against silos, which are basically the “not my job, man” attitude dressed up in a suit and tie and reporting to the CEO – often as a result of what the CEO has purposefully encouraged, aka internal competition.

    Last I checked, a company, like our country, is one unit, thriving together or sinking into a morass of failure together. When that happens, the only ones who prosper are the competition.

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