5 leadership lessons conservatives can learn from this year

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” – Proverbs 4:7

It’s been a crazy year — and it’s not over yet. But as the 2013 elections are upon us, it occurs to me this might serve as an appropriate waypoint to stop and analyze things. There have been some teachable moments for us all.

Here are five lessons that might be helpful, going forward:

1. Build consensus early. Sometimes too many meetings or too many “chefs in the kitchen” can result in a kind of “paralysis of analysis” where nothing gets done. The opposite of that, though, is arguably worse. And what we have witnessed a lot of lately is a sort of “go-it-alone” mentality.

Recent examples abound:

a). ObamaCare passed without any Republican votes, meaning that zero Republicans had a vested interest in its success.

b). Several of Ken Cuccinelli’s past supporters have told me that they weren’t consulted, and were — in fact, surprised — to learn (through the media) that he decided to run for governor of Virginia.

c). The defund strategy was unilaterally decided by a small number of people — and then foisted on colleagues and conservatives (many of whom disagreed with the fundamental strategy).

This is not to say that everyone should have a veto over every thing (that’s the paralysis of analysis problem again). But if you’re hoping to build a broad coalition of support, there is a huge benefit to alerting allies (even if its merely pro forma), floating trial balloons, and, of course, listening to the input and concerns of others.

Seeking “buy-in” from stakeholders before launching a major initiative is a key to success that has been mostly brushed aside of late.

2. Celebrate victories. Yes, there is sometimes a benefit to looking displeased. You don’t go into a car lot and act happy about the price of a new Land Rover. Sometimes you do get more when by feigning displeasure. But over time, the sense that one is always losing can be demoralizing. Sometimes you just have to be willing to take “yes” for an answer. And sometimes you have to uncork the champagne.

Many of today’s Republicans have a sort of inferiority complex. They seem to relish their outsider status, and lionize lost causes. The danger is that, if you constantly act like you’re losing every battle, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. For example, rather than celebrating sequester-level spending which has caused the deficit to drop, they bemoaned what they couldn’t accomplish. Sometimes it’s wiser to claim victory — and come back for more. For one thing, people want to join a winning cause.

3. Have fun. There’s something contagious about a politician with a joie de vivre. The best politicians — Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — clearly loved their jobs. (Terry McAuliffe, for all his faults, loves politics.) But in today’s GOP, liking the game of politics almost implies a sort of establishment cronyism. And so, Republicans play the martyr more than the champion.

You know who likes politics? New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. And as he told Peggy Noonan, “politics is a feeling.”

4. Learn from historyRalph Reed was on Morning Joe this morning. Reed said he never supported the defund strategy because he “was a veteran of the shutdown of the 90s.” Of course, they didn’t listen to him. I suspect Republicans would have been better ahead had they learned this lesson — or, at least, listened to people who had that sort of institutional knowledge.

5. Be more tolerant of those who are new. I can only imagine how tough it is for parents to impotently stand by and watch their kids make the same mistakes they once made. But each generation has to learn for themselves. “I didn’t publicly criticize them,” Reed said regarding Republicans who pursued a defund strategy. “I felt like it was there time at bat. But as I tried to share what we had experienced, it was very clear to me that it was eighteen years later, and they had to learn it for themselves.”

Just as newcomers should be humble and learn from wise and experienced men and women (and being wise and experienced doesn’t make one a RINO), people who have been around politics for a long time should strive to be more understanding of the learning curve necessary as the next generation of conservative leaders to take the helm.