Saturday, February 4, 2012

Professional Political Responsibility

Like many companies around the world, the one that provides me with enough compensation to allow me the indulgence of such petty pursuits as blogging is attempting to increase its ability to serve its customers.  There are many paths to such a goal, and I for one am grateful that the powers that be in my organization have chosen one that doesn't involve flogging, water-boarding, or group retreats (the latter having finally been designated as a 'war crime' offense placed on the UN list of non-sanctioned torture).

Instead they are choosing to follow the path set out in a book called “The Oz Principle” by Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman.  I will not give away the contents of the book and deprive these gentlemen of their due compensation, but will say that their theory has largely to do with the concept of 'joint accountability'.  I will also say that there is a delicious irony involved with working for a company in Kansas that seeks to follow a path (dare I say 'Yellow Brick Road') having to do with L Frank Baum's Oz stories.

It had been some years I must sadly say, since I had used outside reference material to upgrade my skills or used the tests provided in such a book to judge my own performance.  It reminded me that in attempting to be a professional, that continuing to do so was an not only obligation, but a professional responsibility.  Being who I am and doing what I do, it also set me to thinking in this election year about those we send to Washington, what training they get in seeking the job, what training they get in DC, and what resources they might seek to improve the required skill sets.

Oh sure, I know that freshmen in Congress go through an orientation process before taking up their responsibilities, but I have come to think that this is more like that in college where they show you how to get around campus, teach you some of the basic rules of behavior, and assign an Advisor to you to get you through the early days until you become more familiar with campus life. 

Further training seems to involve little more than enlightenment on how to 'go along to get along'.  If you want to serve on important committees, gain power and influence, and gather support for efforts designed to aid your constituency (and for re-election), you must learn to do as you're told (for such is the reality of party politics).  I at least, have never heard of training, early on or ongoing, that's offered to make them better legislators, or better able to serve the people who elected them. 

As for testing (self or otherwise), the only real ones that legislators seem to take these days are held every 2-6 years (depending on the position).  Rather than being a test of the skills that have been attained or those required for the job however: good judgment, good governance, or legislative ability; they seem more a test of their ability to raise money, obfuscate their voting records and lack of results, and come up with clever sound-bites for their campaign commercials and the nightly news.

Some might see this as a role that the major political parties might play, both to improve the skills of their members and as a way to garner votes through a dissemination of the knowledge of the greater abilities of their membership.  Unfortunately, political parties these days have long given up on promoting the acquisition of talent among their ranks, unless it's a talent in political strategy to be used for political gain in the combination chess match and team sport that they have turned politics into.

Talent in soaring oratory has been set aside in favor of the ability sling mud and spew vitriol.  Debating skills are ignored in favor of the ability to twist an opponent’s statements and cast them in a poor light while re-casting the argument.  The ability to find common ground to serve the electorate is passed over in a never-ending, blind, and almost mindless attempt to gain points in the polls.  

And as for the talent or ability of writing of good laws, why bother when legislated language will be handed to you on a silver platter (much like the head of John the Baptist) by special interest group lobbyists who can thereby assure that their employers will benefit from its passage and implementation.  Legislative legerdemain then seems to mandate that many such laws be combined into 'omnibus legislation' to hide the dirty fingerprints.  Why should any bother to read such legislation when they know if permitted time enough to do so, that none will be provided to understand the ramifications and laws of unintended consequence that will inevitably follow.  And of course why bother to challenge the leadership of your party on legislation that they propose, even when you know they're wrong, when doing so will likely end your ability guide fellow legislators to a potentially better path, if not your political career.

It seems as thought we are to be saddled with professionals politicians for at least the for foreseeable future, (and who are by the way, are compensated at a professional level).  If they are going to make politics their chosen profession, the least that they can do is to act like professionals and seek effective training to keep up the skills required for the position.  They must recognize that running for an election is not part of maintaining those professional skills however (no matter how much time they spend at it), merely a periodic job review. They must come to understand as a professional, that gaining and maintaining their skills is as much an obligation of their position as their duty to serve their elected constituency.  If they need somewhere to start, perhaps they too might read “The Oz Principle”.  It may not relate specifically to the position of professional politician, but there is little doubt that all them could use some training in joint accountability.   

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