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November 12, 2003

Following Directions

Why did Dean get the SEIU endorsement?

Apparently, he can follow directions.

A Roadmap for Endorsement: As this article details, all the candidates were given a roadmap for getting the endorsement:

The SEIU offered all the candidates the same resources: a list of their local leadership and a warning that the route to the endorsement began not in Stern's fifth-floor office on L Street NW but through the rank and file. "Everybody got the same advice," an SEIU official said. "Howard Dean took it to heart." No other candidate came close to Dean's outreach. "Shockingly" not close, Stern said.
Dean took the bottom-up roadmap to heart and went and solicited support from all the local leaders to build support for his candidacy-- something that the D.C.-dominated campaigns of his rivals just couldn't or wouldn't bother to do apparently.

As I said, I don't know what electability means, but one thing it does entail is listening-- listening to groups and constituencies on what they require to support you, then following through.

Leadership by Listening: Dean's plebiscite on whether to reject public matching funds can look like a gimmick, but the Internet-driven listening to the grassroots involved is reflective of a broader "leadership by listening" that he obviously applied to getting the SEIU endorsement.

How Clark lost the AFSCME endorsement, which he almost had in hand, illustrates Clark's failure as a leader to listen:

The fatal blow for Clark came when his campaign team decided last month to pull out of Iowa. The night the news was breaking, Clark called McEntee to tell him. McEntee told him he was making a terrible "strategic mistake." Last week, a Clark campaign official told another labor official that no one on the campaign had known how important Iowa was to AFSCME and McEntee -- further proof to AFSCME leaders of the weaknesses inside Clark's operation.
The sin was not the strategic decision to pull out of Iowa, but not even to be listening to a key ally to understand it mattered to them.

Real leadership is not making prepared speeches that sound good-- hell, we've seen enough of that in the last couple of years to know that's not leadership. Real leadership is real organic engagement with people and organizations, listening to what they need, shaping a response that channels the energy of the population, and then implementing the plan. By that score, Dean deserves a lot of credit as a leader.

As I've said before, I believe in organization, but even more so, I believe in Organizing-- the skill and ability it takes to build organization.

Listening in Foreign Policy: Dean gets criticized for lacking foreign policy experience, which is valid, but in a world where the strongest critique of US policy is our failure to organize international cooperation around our efforts, maybe we need fewer brilliant policy analysts and more roll-up-your-sleaves organizers.

Somehow I have the sense that if France and Germany had laid out the requirements for what it would take to get them on board for fighting global terrorism, Dean would listen closely enough to build the coalition organization that they would join.

Listening is an underrated leadership skill, but one that is all the more needed in the world today.

Posted by Nathan at November 12, 2003 04:50 AM