Election Day 2017 is rapidly approaching.
In the City of Lynnwood, there are three council seats and a mayoral race to be determined. If you are a resident of our fair city, you have undoubtedly seen the so-called “yard signs” for the various candidates on virtually every street corner.
Having personally served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 consecutive years, I would confess to observing the different campaign activities with a great deal of personal interest. It also brings to mind the good, bad and ugly of elections won and lost over the years.
In particular, I have been recalling some of the critical lessons that I had to learn both as a candidate and an elected official — and there were many. However, one in particular stands out in my memory, the importance of CREDIBLE COMMUNICATION.
One of my favorite mentor’s is well known for saying, “Credibility is a leader’s currency. With it, he or she is solvent; without it, he or she is bankrupt!” A leader with credibility has a pocketful of coins. As long as the pocket is full, the leader is believable, worthy of respect and able to be trusted.
However, each time the leader breaks a promise or acts inconsistently with his or her professed values, he or she must spend some of the coins in their pockets. When the coins are gone, so is the leader’s credibility. Once lost, respect and trust can take years to regain.
This leads to a critical question: How does an elected official establish credibility with his or her constituents? There are at least four ways that every elected official can use. They are:
SPEAK THE TRUTH
In short, be honest and up-front. One of the first and most important lessons I learned on a becoming a council member was that transparency breeds legitimacy. From the beginning of my first term in office, I made it a practice to meet with any and all citizens who expressed the desire to meet with me and discuss their personal concerns or recommendations to solve a specific problem. No topics were off limits. My openness in fielding questions laid a solid foundation of credibility from which I could operate.
DON’T HIDE BAD NEWS
We all have scandals seared in our collective memories. Hardly a day goes by without us reading or hearing about another scandal in corporations, governments, churches and educational institutions. We have entered an era in which transparency is demanded like never before. In case you have not noticed, news travels at lighting speed. It behooves the elected official to be candid right from the start.
In others words, do not make promises you can’t keep. This is the one practice that has given politicians such a poor reputation. It is very simple. It is easy to promise virtually anything during the campaign, but hard to deliver when the real work begins – especially when a majority vote is required for passage of the particular legislation.
DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL DO
In a busy world of e-mails, phone calls and committee meetings, it is very easy to say that you will do something and then promptly forget it – unintentionally. Too often this is viewed as an empty commitment to the person who was looking to you for help or assistance. Diligent follow-through will set you apart from the crowd and communicate excellence to those you meet. In other words, a little extra effort can pay big dividends down the road.
This brings me to a second critical question: What does an elected official do when his or her credibility is questioned? I raise this issue because even the best leaders may suffer a blow to their credibility – and I know from personal experience that it is not fun. As an elected official, how can you restore your damaged credibility?
I submit three actions steps for your consideration.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE MISTAKE OR ERROR IN JUDGEMENT
A leader owes his constituents an explanation. Our ego may want to assign blame or make excuses, but the problem only compounds when we do not “fess up.” Experience has taught me that acknowledgement should be on the front end and should be voluntary. A forced acknowledgement because you get caught does nothing to re-establish trust.
Admit what you did was wrong, accept responsibility and say that you are sorry. It may be painful for the moment, but it will shorten the agony and enable the leader to put the incident behind him or her – and don’t ever do it again!
It is well worth the effort to search out the ways to make amends with the person or people you have wronged. If necessary, make restitution to those you’ve harmed. You may not be required to do so, but a trustworthy leader goes the extra mile to remedy strained relationships.
Some closing thoughts…
I would again reiterate that CREDIBILITY is the bond, the glue, if you will, between the elected official and his constituents. It is the bedrock of why people will elect and support their leaders.
When it is absent, or perceived to be lacking, the constituents will withdraw their support and replace you.
If you are an elected official or aspire to be one in whatever community you may reside – just remember, credibility will make or break your success!
Until next time…
Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is also a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.