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Secretary LaHood’s Farewell Remarks at National Press Club

 

Lessons on Leadership

"Remarks as prepared for delivery"

June 27, 2013

 

Hello everyone. Thank you for joining me today.

It’s great to be back at the Press Club. I want to thank Angela for hosting this event and for her leadership in general. She’s done a terrific job as President.

As you know, I’ve been a Republican all my life: when I served in the Illinois legislature, when I worked for members of Congress, and when I served in Congress myself.  

People sometimes ask me, “Why would you -- a life-long Republican -- sign up to be part of a Democratic administration?”

Well, I’ll tell you why:  

Because I’m an American. 

I believe in America. 

And serving the American people is the highest calling.

When President Obama called on me to serve in his historic administration, I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for truly bipartisan public service.

Sure, we had our differences.

But we shared a passion for public service—and that’s what mattered.

Today, as I look back on my time in Washington, I see a lot of progress—and much of it was the result of bipartisan compromise.

When I was in Congress, we balanced the budget; we passed welfare reform; and we passed a long-term transportation bill—twice. 

As Secretary of Transportation, I’ve worked with President Obama to make unprecedented investments in our nation’s infrastructure—

To ensure that the United States of America has a transportation network that is second to none.  

We worked with Congress to pass both an FAA Reauthorization bill and MAP-21, our transportation bill;

We’ve improved over 350,000 miles of U.S. roads, and we’ve repaired or replaced over 20,000 bridges.

We brought high-speed rail to America—and we did by investing over $12 billion in high-speed rail projects across the country.

We set historic fuel efficiency standards for our cars;

We took the first steps to modernizing our air-space;

We built modern streetcars, bus rapid transit and light rail in communities big and small, urban and rural;

We created livable neighborhoods—where people bike, walk or ride to the grocery store, work, school—and everywhere else they need to go.

And every step of the way—we put people to work.

Now, take a moment and think about what we could do right now if Washington wasn’t distracted by the side-shows and name-calling.

What could we accomplish if we stopped trying to win the next debate and really listened to one another?

As a former Member of Congress, I get it. Solving our nation’s problems is hard work, and it always has been. 

Today, it is made even more difficult by constant partisan debate, but the truth is—we can overcome this.

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen my mentors, my colleagues, and even my rivals, come together and solve big problems.

Time and time again, the quality they’ve all shared is leadership.

The funny thing about leadership is that while it’s hard to define, it’s very easy to identify.

People know a leader when they see one.

As I close the last chapter in my book of service—I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a leader—and why today’s challenges require all of us in public service to be better leaders.

So, before I pack up and head home, I’d like to share with all of you what my years in Washington have taught me about leadership.

First and foremost, leaders listen.

It may seem as though our politicians are more interested in being the loudest person in the room than hearing the other side. But it was not always this way.

My mentor, former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, believed that listening was the most important factor in his success.

When we really listen, we begin to see the question from the other person’s point of view.

Secondly, leaders judge honestly.  In politics we are required to make judgments on what people say or do, but we can do that without passing judgment on their character or motivation. 

In other words, those who disagree with us are not bad people.

Understanding this difference is a virtue.

While serving in Congress, Rahm Emanuel and I hosted a series of bipartisan dinners where House members from both parties spent an evening together talking policy and politics and getting to know each other personally.

You can be sure that we did not agree on everything—but we did lay the foundation for goodwill and friendships that would help us take on the challenges of the day.

President Obama’s recent efforts to break bread and play golf with Members of Congress are a testament to his own commitment to goodwill and honest judgment.

I have said from the beginning of my friendship with President Obama: Bipartisanship is in his DNA.

Third, leaders are prudent. They are practical and use common sense.

These skills are not necessarily the essence of personal charisma, thrilling oratory, or swiftness in debate, but they are critical to achieving long-term progress.

Prudence is a quiet quality and demands long periods of considered judgment rather than catchy speeches.

Fourth, leaders conduct themselves with civility—in victory or defeat.

Someone once said that civility in public life is like good manners in private life: They don’t solve problems but they create an atmosphere in which problems can be solved.

Above all, leaders take responsibility for how they conduct themselves and for the decisions they make.

People want leaders who answer for their actions.

Successful public service in a democracy does not mean the destruction of one’s enemies.

If, when the country was on the verge of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln could say to his countrymen, “We are not enemies, but friends,” then surely we can do the same today. 

There is always going to be another issue and another debate. Our job, as political leaders, is to build the relationships that help us compromise and get things done.

Solving the difficult problems that face our nation has always been hard.

It was hard for Lincoln to keep the union together during the Civil War.

It was hard for Congress to pass a civil rights bill that ensured equal rights for all Americans.

And it was hard for us to balance the budget in the 90’s.

But we did it. And we did it together.

We certainly can do it again.

The qualities I’ve laid out may seem less valued in today’s Washington, but that is precisely why they are most important.

The next generation is counting on us to do more.

Let’s start by being better leaders, being bipartisan, and being willing to compromise.

And now, I’m happy to take your questions.

Updated: Friday, June 28, 2013