What's it like being a State Party Chair, dealing with complexities of running a political party? Pat Dixon, former LP Texas Chair from 2004-2014 explains in his book, "Leading Like a Libertarian". Below is an excerpt. For the full content, you can get it for only $10 on Amazon - a worthwhile investment in your leadership skills!
Leadership is accepting responsibility for results
Never forget that our members, leaders, and candidates are OUR brand
ETHICS Principle: Excellence, Trust, Honesty, Integrity, Commitment, Sincerity
As a leader, ask the question “will you be missed” (from context of organization vs emotional)
As a leader, leave a legacy
As a leader, learn to delegate
As a leader, be the “connector” that brings people together to take advantage of opportunities
As a leader, constantly be on the lookout for new talent and bench-strength
As a leader, pick the right people to fill mission-critical positions
Success starts with being organized and detail oriented
As a leader, be honest and admit you do NOT have all the answers—it’s a team effort
As a leader, remain focused and set priorities
As a leader, have clarity in the vision and the guidelines you communicate
I am by no means a perfect leader. Book stores are full of writings by business leaders and management experts much more credentialed than I. However, I have experience leading teams of engineers from around the world. I have managed some large projects at industrial facilities. I have served as Board President on two non-profit organizations that are still surviving. I served as a City Council Member twice. Therefore, I have experience and appreciation for managing people and serving in a leadership position in organizations.
However, no experience has been like that of being elected Chair of the Libertarian Party of Texas in 2004. That year the party faced the possibility of being removed from the ballot. We had no staff, no money, and about 70 candidates that were hoping to be on the ballot. In 2010 we had about a quarter million dollars in revenue, 6 paid staff members, and over 150 candidates on the ballot. I have learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way.
My purpose in this writing is to share some opinions of Leadership in the Libertarian Party (LP) that I have formulated over this time. The intended audience is new or prospective leaders in the LP but it may also be enlightening to others. I do not claim my opinions are perfect; they may be subject to change as I gracefully age. However, I hope that at a minimum my opinions help provoke thought and help formulate your own opinions. When you have it all figured out, you can be Chair of the LP of Texas and show us how its done!
1. Leading Like a Libertarian
Libertarians complain about government bureaucracy. We say that if we get elected we will make government smaller and clean a lot of laws off the books. We claim that a lot of regulation is unnecessary, and even harmful, because the free market automatically regulates bad behavior.
Have you ever considered that we might try governing the LP the same way we intend to govern the country? Shouldn’t we try that first and see how it works?
I mention this because I find many Libertarians love inventing new rules. If something doesn’t go quite right, we are going to pass a law. The bigger our rule book gets, the safer we will be, right?
Not according to Phillip Howard, the author of “The Death of Common Sense; How Law is Suffocating America”. Legislation is a poor substitute for common sense.
I am a Libertarian not only because I think it is the best form of government. It is the best way of life. Liberty works, not only in government, but in business, organizations, families, and everywhere else. One of the early financial supporters of the LP, Charles Koch, has adopted Libertarian free market principles to Koch Industries, the second largest private company the US. The concept, called Market Based Management, is one that empowers its workers instead of imposing more bureaucracy. It seems to work for them.
Consider a scenario where a Libertarian volunteer is given money from the State Party to run an outreach booth. At the conclusion, the money is wasted with no new contacts generated. There was no literature to hand out. The booth looked dumpy. People passing by the booth just kept on walking. There were not enough volunteers to handle booth traffic if there was any. The volunteers made no effort to engage with people.
There are 2 ways to fix this problem:
I suggest the latter approach is the most effective, efficient, and consistent with Libertarian free market principles.
Presumably we as Libertarians believe that people work best when they have Liberty. They work worst when they are slaves. An empowered worker that is trustworthy is much more valuable than a shackled slave.
Rules and policies can be beneficial though. They can provide guidelines and preserve institutional knowledge. It is helpful to have consistent practices so that when there is turnover in personnel, the operation can keep humming along without big bumps in the road. Rules can be used to address unacceptable behavior.
However, anytime a rule is considered, it should be easily dismissed if there is no penalty or enforcement mechanism. Take the example of the volunteer leader of the outreach booth. What punishment would there be for violating a rule on outreach booths? Who monitors this volunteer and presents evidence of guilt? If you can’t answer this, you have no business making a rule.
Ultimately, it is a choice between micro-managing and empowering. There are some diligent and skilled people that can effectively micro-manage small organizations, but I do not believe they can succeed or grow an organization long term. I did not micro-manage our volunteers, local leaders, candidates, or staff. I empowered them but held them responsible.
The origin of our Federal Government was a small rule book called the Constitution. Clearly, mountains of legislation have not made Congress work better. I suggest that the LP lead by example and demonstrate that an organization with a simple and concise rule book that empowers people to use their talents freely and hold them accountable is the best model for success. Let’s lead the LP like Libertarians!
2. The Basket and the Tree
Imagine you are going into an orchard to pick apples. You start shaking the trees as hard as you can and lots of apples fall. The problem is that you have a hole in your basket and a lot of good apples fall through, crash on the ground, split open, and rot. Other apples that aren’t yet ripe end in your basket and eventually on someone’s table. When they bite into your sour apple, they know not to buy from you again.
On the other hand, consider going into the orchard with a mended basket and picking the low lying, ripened fruit. These good apples will not rot on the ground and your customers will continue to buy these good apples from you.
When you go out shaking the bushes for members, candidates, leaders, and donors, does your basket have a hole in it? Do good leaders that want to be county chairs try in vain to reach someone in the LP State Leadership on the phone and fail? Do prospective candidates send emails to party leaders that never get answered? Does the media end up on websites with outdated information and broken links? These good apples have fallen through your basket and after lying on the ground all that time, they rot. You can no longer take advantage of their interest because they have such a bad impression of your organization. Rotten apples are hard to repair!
How about those unripe apples that do end up in your basket? They really don’t understand the LP or our principles and don’t have much commitment to the organization. They really didn’t come on their own; they fell into the basket from vigorous solicitation. You spent all that effort shaking the tree, but when these people are the leaders and candidates representing the party to the public, they may not be appealing and you lose customers.
Making sure that your infrastructure is in place is the first priority before you try to grow.
In 2004, our newly hired Texas Executive Director tried contacting our county chairs. He found numerous email addresses and phone numbers that were invalid. He found many county organization websites were dead or broken. He found the State Party answering machine had gone for months with unanswered inquiries from volunteers, candidates, and the media.
By fixing what is broken, you can catch those good apples that come to the LP on their own. They are the low lying fruit that have already become Libertarian and are ready to help.
Although there are people that leave our opponents (the Democrat or Republican party), discover the LP on their own, and come to us, we do need to shake the tree to grow. We need to make solicitations and market ourselves to attract people. Let’s just make sure we have a mended basket first.
Leadership means accepting responsibility for results.
A leader is not someone that looks for excuses. A leader accepts responsibility for the success or failure of the organization.
I have often encountered people in leadership positions in the LP that will talk your ear off with complaints. They have no end to the number of reasons why they have not succeeded and have no difficulty blaming everyone and everything else. That is not leadership.
A leader actively looks for problems and tries to fix them. A leader will embrace the team concept instead of looking for scapegoats. When mistakes are made, a leader will accept at least part of the responsibility and take action to prevent future mistakes.
For example, imagine you appoint a volunteer to recruit candidates. At the deadline for filing, the number of candidates is a paltry figure. It is clear the volunteer didn’t do a very good job. You can blame this person, but a leader is someone who recognizes:
These are examples of responsibilities you as a leader have control of. You don’t have direct control of what someone else does, but you do have responsibility. A leader is someone that reacts to a problem by planning for future occurrences and looking for ways to improve.
So a leader accepts responsibility for results. There are no results without goals.
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