Lessons in Leadership with a Side of Coffee
The first in a series of invite-only “Get to Know” events, nine Comm-PAC members received a firsthand account of legislative efforts in Michigan from Sen. Margaret O’Brien on Feb. 6. Gathered at Water Street Coffee in Portage, the Kalamazoo County Republican also shared a few of the important lessons she’s learned during four years in the Michigan House of Representatives and more than two years in the Michigan Senate – what it takes to be a good leader.
An average week for O’Brien is busy, to say the least. On Mondays and Fridays, O’Brien is in Kalamazoo County breaking down her day into 15-minute increments to meet with constituents, read up on policy, and make the most of back-to-back meetings. She travels to and from Lansing every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, making it a point to be home with her family in Portage every night. She estimates that she’s spent four nights at most in Lansing over the last year.
“When you get into public service, it’s very easy to get seduced by the whole thing,” O’Brien said. “I made a commitment to my family to be home as many nights as possible.”
Balance and responsibility are part of O’Brien’s approach to public service as well as her family.
“Power is only good if you know what you want to achieve,” she said. “I’m in the party of power, so I can influence getting to those goals, but without goals power becomes corrupt.
“Having power means we’re going to transform our state for the better. We have to use it carefully.”
Reaching across the aisle and to those within your own party who hold more extreme views is also a powerful way to affect change in the state, O’Brien said.
“I think it’s fair to say that sometimes there is ego involved, but there needs to be negotiation. We need to think about how can we all get on the same page and how can we all get along? I think there will be more cooperation this term.”
O’Brien compared the expectation of total agreement to the most personal of relationships.
“Even within a marriage we know that you can’t get 100-percent agreement,” she said. “So, it’s very interesting that in politics people expect 100-percent agreement.
“You have to come at it from a compromising heart.”
In each party, you are always going to have divided factions, she added.
“It’s about keeping your eye on the policy. It’s not about what party you’re a part of. If you focus on the policy level, politics will take care of itself.”
Knowing which policies are best is a group effort, O’Brien said. Without input from citizens, elected officials can’t make educated decisions.
“Get involved locally,” O’Brien urged. “You can have a voice and be respectful. You can have those conversations. It’s okay to disagree with legislators. Just come to us, bring the facts involved and tell us your side. We need those conversations.”
Comm-PAC looks forward to continuing conversations like these in future installments of the “Getting to Know You” Series. Join the conversation and become a member of Comm-PAC today!