I’m a big fan of U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy from South Carolina. His vocabulary, direct approach, and strict demeanor are all traits that translate to me a man of character and solidarity. He has the ability to ask the tough questions and say the unpopular thing that has to be said, no matter how uncomfortable it might make the other person or himself. I respect that as a man and I respect that as a professional. Saying the embarrassing thing or posing the uncomfortable question requires a lot of self-control and adherence to task. In those moments, it is not uncommon for people to sweat, look down at the floor or at least find that their voice will continue to shake no matter how you try to control it.
Not Gowdy. Wanna know how he does it? How he keeps his cool?
He just simmers and rarely boils over. He does his homework to minimize any surprise responses. He practices that lawyer mantra of never asking a question you don’t already know the answer to. He is, in a word, “PREPARED.”
When people rifle an answer back at him he is ready for it–almost expects it–and already has his response jacked and in the chamber. He reads quotes from the people he is negotiating with or cornering and/or accusing and gets them back-pedaling by forcing them to explain and/or stumble over their own words.
He angers and upsets a lot of people, but mostly because he’s right and they know it. We could all learn a lot from watching and listening to Gowdy. I urge you to look up his name and punch up a couple search engines exhibiting his work in the House and on committees. He is relentless, but absolutely on target and his sure-footedness is what unnerves people the most.
Most of the time his “cause” seems to be concerned with fighting for the people who have been misrepresented or under-represented. He has a problem with people in authority who abuse their privilege and forget the many people who contribute to make things work. I happen to share a passion for this type of “fight” and perhaps that’s why I identify with him so well or so appreciatively.
A Similar Approach
My dad was a metallurgist at one of America’s largest car companies. But at one point when he and mom were putting all three of their kids through college, my dad saw an opportunity and took a transfer onto the factory floor as a line supervisor where he could work the graveyard shift to make some extra money. As a line supervisor, he inherited many people and their respective diverse “personalities” and those he supervised knew him from the metallurgy office. They began to reveal things to him about how they felt about their work and their jobs and he got an earful the whole time he was out on the floor. When he finally returned to the office position, he had a keen understanding of the people that were building the cars he was involved in designing and he began to take his questions out onto the floor to talk to the men and women that got their hands dirty. To reciprocate, he began to identify their concerns to management. He helped get some things aired out between labor and management like a whole wall of updated vending machines placed in the break room and better supplies of more powerful soaps and thicker, better towels in the bathrooms; things that simply needed to be identified and brought to management. His methods back then were the same as Gowdy’s today. He would establish the basis by asking obvious questions–“The break room is supposed to be well-stocked with foods and beverages so that an employee who may have forgotten a lunch or is in need of a snack has access to same. Correct?” Yes, Ron, that’s right. “And the last time these machines were updated or investigated for content was 10 years ago right?” Yes, Ron, that’s right. “Well then it makes sense to have a group representing labor submit a list to management of some of the things they’d like to have stocked right?”
Yes, Ron, I think we’d be glad to do that.
And then it would happen. Just like that. No one offended. No one arguing. Just a basic establishment of what was right and what your conscience would say.
Fight The Good Fight
What did my dad see so clearly then that Gowdy sees so clearly now and I have come to understand clearly today? It’s really very simple.
When you put people first, in almost any endeavor, the right motives will rise to the top and make the priorities clear. Gowdy is fighting the good fight on Capitol Hill to make sure that all people are considered and represented. In times of economic crisis, it is right that he questions how there are executives flying first-class and taking luxury hotel suites while there are long-term hourly employees getting released after serving decades.
He could bang the table and rattle the windows about it or he could ask the people that know the why and where about it and get their response. If the right questions are asked and the responses initiate the outrage, chances are good things will get changed for the better.
- Do your homework. Know the subject inside and out.
- Prepare for challenges and questions and stay focused on the issue.
- Don’t target people as the problem. Identify and vet the problem. The people will be exposed.
- Don’t fake empathy. Really listen and put the people first.
- Argue with passion but not threat.
You can make a difference this way. It is not exactly Gandhi wandering peacefully through India but the methodology is similar. The screaming, ranting one foaming at the mouth is usually the loser.
Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at email@example.com.