Leading to Govern is a project Lyceum Labs is undertaking in partnership with Emily Cherniack, Founder and Executive Director of New Politics. Our goal is to explore how up-and-coming politicians can best navigate the tradeoffs, compromises, and balancing acts required once they have been elected and turn to the tasks of representation and governance.
Why are we embarking on this project? Because to tackle the problems the United States faces, we need to elect a new generation of political leaders who bring constructive visions for the future and diverse perspectives to the table. However, at the precise moment we need this new generation of leaders to emerge, politics has become an even more disfavored, disreputable, and discouraging calling. Hyper-partisanship, policy gridlock, and the money chase, among other turnoffs, make political leadership the last thing that many talented and idealistic Americans want to pursue. Instead, they seek to make their mark, and to make the world a better place, in the social or private sectors.
A growing number of political and civil society organizations are working to counteract this pattern by encouraging and equipping promising leaders to run for political office. Many of these organizations focus on recruiting and supporting women and / or people of color to fix the current underrepresentation of these demographic groups in our elected offices. Others seek to enlist candidates with backgrounds in national and community service programs or the military. Still others focus on engaging candidates dedicated to advancing policies in particular domains, e.g., climate, education, or immigration.
Getting elected, especially the first time, is hard. But it is not the hardest part of being a successful politician. Elected winners subsequently need to govern and represent diverse constituencies, working with or against other elected leaders who have their own agendas to advance and constituents to represent. And politicians must do so in the context of governing institutions with often arcane norms, rules, and procedures. The pulling and hauling required for governance and representation in a free society requires making tradeoffs between competing goals and balancing idealism and pragmatism.
Navigating these hard choices is not easy for anyone to do. It is especially hard in a polarized and fractious political environment. And it is all the more challenging for candidates who run for office based on their identity or issues that are especially important to them. For such politicians, working through these dilemmas can leave them feeling like they are giving up a part of who they are or what they stand for. They are understandably loath to do this.
How can political leaders operate with integrity? Where can they find solid footing? How can they manage to get important things done in office, despite the headwinds?
Through the Leading to Govern project, we will answer these questions and help rising politicians contend with the following challenges:
The goal of Leading to Govern is not to develop one formula or overarching framework for political leadership, but rather to discern and elevate approaches that have worked for a range of promising politicians who are leading with integrity and making a positive impact in their roles. We plan to look over their shoulders as they resolve the dilemmas inherent in their trade in order to better understand and reflect on the choices and tradeoffs they are making. Ultimately, we can use their experience and examples to inform and inspire more promising leaders to enter the arena and provide them guideposts for success.
We're clearing the way for the new politicians and political parties that democracy in America needs to flourish in the 21st Century. Stay up to date on our work and get the latest “Lab Notes” updates by signing up for Lyceum Labs' email newsletter.