Quitting at anything runs contrary to how I was raised. My parents always told me to persevere, to hang in and try harder when the going got tough. It was great advice until now.
After being shocked, saddened, and concerned about how off course I believed the conversation on leadership in America had gone during the Presidential Election in 2016, I decided that I would try to be more engaged in political life. As circumstances would have it, I had the opportunity to run for local office in 2017. It was a closely watched contest in my community, and I won by 11 points. A big win in a race that was supposed to go down to the wire. I found myself excited to have the opportunity to serve and lead on our local Board of Supervisors. I was motivated, hopeful, and ready to contribute.
That motivation and idealism quickly turned to deep dismay as I got inside local government. While I met many amazing citizens and talented staff members, most of what I saw was extremely disappointing. Out of respect for those I briefly served with, I will refrain from the details. The bottom line? I was very alone. And, without a coalition of others who were willing to reimagine possible paths forward, I saw no avenue to support change or add value. My options were to spin my wheels for another 18-months or move on. I decided that life is too short to stay somewhere where I can’t have a positive impact. I resigned a few days ago.
If local government didn’t matter so much (my county has a $1.3 billion budget and serves 350,000 citizens), it all would have been quite funny, as if I was caught up in a bad movie. But it’s not a movie, it’s real and it’s serious. News flash: political life in America is in a bad place. While I am an early casualty of the movement to change our country, that’s okay. I know many more are coming behind me. I have no regrets for trying to contribute.
Failing is never fun, yet it is so valuable.
I failed fast and I am failing forward. I now have more insight into how I can make a difference. I’ll never quit trying to be of service and value, that’s the Marine in me.
Here are five leadership lessons I learned from winning an election and failing in office:
- We must work collaboratively and interdependently to achieve better outcomes. No one leader can achieve progress on their own. Choose roles that give you the opportunity to be a part of a team of talented leaders- that’s where true joy, change, and progress are possible.
- The complexity of challenge in our society is outpacing the capability of our systems and leaders to respond to it. This is true in both the private and public sectors. We all need to help our communities, companies, and nation. You don’t have to run for office or be a manager to lead. Identify any challenge you want to be a part of resolving and use your gifts and talents to support progress.
- We all have a learning zone. It exists one step beyond our comfort zone. Spend as much time there as you can, and not only will you make valuable contributions to others, you’ll growth continuously in capability.
- When you are working to do good, you run a significant risk of being misunderstood. When others are not able to take you at face value, know that’s when it’s most important to continue to live your truth.
- Sometimes quitting is necessary. We aren’t socialized to stop, only to add more. Often, ending what’s not working is the first step to figuring out what you actually need to be doing to get it right.
With all that being said, though I quit my role, I’m not quitting on government, not my quest to bring a more positive leadership dialogue into society. I’m changing my path, my approach, but not my goal.