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Former U.S. Representative Paul Hodes '78

hot seats, cool heads

Former U.S. Representative Paul Hodes

On the BC Law School ethos:

My experience at BC law School helped provide the foundation for my political career. The commitment to service to others, high standards of ethics, and an atmosphere that fostered dialogue among people of diverse views were hallmarks of my legal education at BC. I carried that experience into my law practice, exercising responsibility for leading major criminal prosecutions at a young age, and later into politics. Central to my sense of leadership is caring for people, respecting individual talent and effort, and delegation of responsibility.

On effective leadership:

I believe that effective leaders recognize three fundamentals in any organization or effort. First, each person wants and deserves respect and appreciation for his or her individual efforts. Second, people are social and want to work together with others, and, third, people want to work together for a purpose higher than themselves. Recognizing these principles, effective leaders encourage the best from their organizations, express appreciation regularly, and help set a clear vision to bind the organization, the essential organizational glue.

Describe your own leadership style:

Unstuffy, informal, accessible, kind, tolerant, positive.

An example of your leadership in action:

I was the Democratic candidate from New Hampshire for the United States Senate in 2010. I lost that race. People say that you learn more from losing campaigns than from winning campaigns, and that is true. I knew for quite some time that our campaign faced challenges that were likely to be insurmountable. In the face of that knowledge, my job was to maintain a positive attitude, make sure that those young people who had committed part of their lives to the campaign effort and service in my congressional office were sustained, lifted up when things looked down, and were continually inspired. It was one of the greatest leadership challenges I ever faced. There were plenty of tears when we lost, but those who worked on the campaign and those who worked in my congressional office are all good friends and ended their service with heads held high and hearts still hopeful.

On improving as a leader:

I learned during my last campaign to trust my own instincts. There are plenty of high-priced, high-powered consultants in politics…. I learned to trust myself as the ultimate arbiter and decision-maker and to take full responsibility for those decisions.

On using your BC Law training to bring people together:

A fundamental quality of good lawyers and good politicians is to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. Courtesy and respect do not diminish the force of persuasive arguments.

On whether your leadership approach changed as Congress became increasingly divisive and partisan, and more driven by money:

The over-emphasis on fundraising in today’s politics does a disservice to all Americans. Now that I am a former congressman, I am using what I learned about leadership to try to focus Democrats on a core economic agenda for growth and innovation and to develop effective messages. In spite of money and divisive politics, staying true to fundamental values and authenticity will always shine through.

On exemplary leaders:

When we were preparing to vote on the Accountable Care Act, President Obama came to address a divided and unhappy Democratic House caucus. Many of us were upset that health care reform had not included the so-called “public option” and that the White House messaging had been ineffective. The President accepted responsibility for the shortcomings but made a persuasive argument for the bill. Then he went further and acknowledged that he knew how difficult the vote would be for many of us and that there were people in the room who would not return to Congress if they voted for the bill. He spoke eloquently of the higher purpose the bill would serve and, I believe, inspired many who were wavering to vote for the bill. In a world where even incremental change is hard to accomplish, I believe the President showed the qualities of true leadership that day.

I also think of Martin Luther King, whose persistent leadership and dedication to non-violence left not only results, but a legacy for all of us to admire.

On the leadership process:

It’s fascinating to me that those who have worked with me affectionately call me “boss.” My process is sometimes formal and sometimes informal. During my time in Congress, I instituted a formal process for policy review involving my legislative assistants, who researched and wrote and made recommendations; the legislative director, a dedicated policy wonk, with whom the work would be reviewed prior to my seeing it; and, finally, a team approach that involved my chief of staff as well as outside advisors. I believe that seeking a broad range of opinion is important before policy decisions are made, and I made every effort to hear from constituents, friends, and advisors in addition to staff.

On changing your position:

It’s a challenge in a world where “flip-flop” is an often used epithet in politics. Sometimes, as we have seen in the current campaign, it is perceived as an unprincipled change of position to curry political favor. I always tried to be genuine about my process and say that I was studying an issue before I took a position. In order to keep my core intact, preserve my own sense of obligation to self, I sometimes agonized over difficult votes. The best way, I believe, is to be straight about where you are and what you’re thinking but do it in a way that gives a sense of thoughtful deliberation rather than unprincipled and flighty change of position.