As part of the Jackson Fellows program, the Foundation was fortunate recently to host a discussion with the Fellows and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on leadership. The Attorney General is a valued member of the Foundation’s Honorary Council of Advisors. Ferguson, whose parents deeply admired Senator Jackson and instilled Jackson values in their son, made time for a one-on-one dialogue with the Fellows.
In a thought-provoking, memorable session, Ferguson couched his lessons of leadership in terms of his former hobby of chess, a sport he dedicated himself to for several formative years before embracing the law and politics as a career. “If you lose, you have no one to blame but yourself,” he began. “You were outplayed. You made a mistake. Take responsibility for your actions,” he advised. Mistakes will happen: what is important is taking ownership of them and being accountable to others. He also suggested analyzing one’s losses carefully. “The path to improvement is a careful scrutiny of the games that you have lost,” he stressed.
Continuing the chess analogy, Ferguson told the young Fellows to “imagine a position in the future and think of the possible moves to get there.” It is important to take calculated risks, he said. “As a leader, you should be willing to go to that position and accept the consequences.”
Turning to leadership and team-building, Ferguson believes that: “Your team watches you closely. If you have a leadership role, they are watching you.” This engenders in him a sense of responsibility and the importance of modeling ethical behavior. “You set the tone,” he reminded the group. “True leadership also means true listening,” he counseled.
The Fellows peppered Ferguson for advice and input that stems from their own professional dilemmas. When faced with complex situations, Ferguson told them: “Be true to yourself. Don’t compromise.”
The Fellows deeply appreciated the opportunity to engage with a leader like Attorney General Ferguson.
Many of you have heard by now of the Foundation’s exciting new initiative – a young leadership program called the Henry M. Jackson Leadership Fellows. We’ve just launched the inaugural class of this 9-month program, which will include leadership training, mentoring, networking, and substantive work on individual projects.
As we showcased in an earlier message, the class is outstanding. The word “inspiring” may sometimes be overused – but in this case I can honestly say that interviewing the 35 fellowship candidates filled me with hope for a time when our civic life will again ring with bipartisan discourse and engaged, active citizens. As one of the Foundation’s Vice Presidents, Craig Gannett, put it in welcoming remarks to the Fellows, “listening to all of you gives me optimism for the future.”
While we eventually chose only eight fellows, a few bright spots came through during the interview process. First, the candidates showed a tremendous interest in leadership – in all its facets – and a strong desire to learn the skills and attributes of great leaders. Second, they hunger to engage outside of work spheres and to connect more deeply with new colleagues and novel ideas. Third, these young professionals want to involve diverse aspects of our community into their work – both professionally and in their volunteer pursuits. Finally – and perhaps most heartening – they believe that Senator Jackson’s life and achievements can speak to this next generation. While many of the candidates did not previously know of Senator Jackson, they came to the interviews inspired by what they had read about him, especially in The Nature of Leadership book that we make available on our website.
The Foundation embarked on its new Fellowship program in part to reach out to the next generation and inculcate them with the Jackson values. The year has just begun – and yet it is already clear that those values – and the man behind them – remain relevant today.
We hope you will join us at some of the many events this year in which the Fellows will be involved.