“The bus leaves at 7:00 AM,” she said.

“I’ll be there!” I beamed back, but internally I was grimacing.

The gears were spinning, calculating how early that meant I was going to have to wake up.

To be clear, I’m normally awake by 6:30, but to be out the door by then is a different story.

Sleep is a serious issue for me, so I’ve mindfully set up my life to never have to use an alarm clock unless I’m catching a plane (and then only when absolutely necessary).

But there are occasional exceptions.

And when Tara, the Director of Leadership Sunnyvale, invited me to join her cohort on a tour of the California State Capitol, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

We’d get to meet representatives and their staff, get a tour of the historical Capitol building, sit in on a committee meeting in session, and have time for lots of Q&A with the folks working to make California better.

As someone who facilitates leadership and team development, how could I pass up this opportunity to experience how leadership and teamwork operate amongst those who are working in the highest levels of government?

The room where it happens: California State Assembly

 

The room where it happens: California State Senate

 

Another room where it happens: Committee in action!

After 3 hours on the chartered bus, our guide, Patrick, led us through security screening (not unlike checking in for a flight), and on to Room 127, where we were welcomed by Senator Josh Becker and Assembly Member Evan Low, and briefly by Assembly Member Alex Lee.

Senator Josh Becker, Assembly Member Evan Low, Assembly Member Alex Lee

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Watching these three representatives interact was a great example of leadership at work.

What were the leadership skills I saw embodied by these public servants?

Rapport

It was clear that Becker, Low, and Lee all had great rapport with each other, which is important if you want to get anything done in a governmental body that depends on alliances.

But the representatives also took the time to build rapport with our group of about 30 visitors.

They asked about the drive up, and talked about Sunnyvale — their district, and the home town of most of the folks in our group, so a good common point of connection.

They understood the importance of building rapport, and took the time to do so, instead of just launching into an agenda.

Communication

While all three representatives are good communicators, I’m going to call Evan Low out in particular as being especially skilled at communication. With this group of laypeople, Low never used jargon, and did an amazing job of always using language that would make sense to his audience.

Not only that, but he used body language, facial expressions, and physical gestures — even moving his entire body from one place to another — in order to make complicated ideas (like the machinations of government) easy to understand. Bravo!

Listening

It’s clear these folks are good listeners. They spoke about the fact that they don’t always agree with each other, and don’t always vote for each other’s bills, but they do always listen to and respect each other.

They also spent the bulk of the time with our group listening and answering questions.

They understood that the value for us was not in hearing them pontificate, but in our feeling seen and heard.

Agility

Not everything went as planned. Some questions came out of the blue.

In other words, “situation normal.” 😉

The best leaders are able to “think on their feet,” and respond with agility, which is exactly what these three representatives did.

I could tell they’re used to it, because they each mentioned several times that they were late to some other meeting (welcome to scheduling in the Legislature, apparently. It sounds a lot like playing three-dimensional chess!), but they remained unflappable.

They have become adept at responding with agility.

Leadership at All Levels

At 3:30, after six hours of immersion in the legislative process, we boarded the bus back to Sunnyvale. Despite my lack of sleep, I felt surprisingly energized!


The experience of getting to go behind the scenes to see how laws are made, and to spend some time with public servants who are working to make California better, made me feel less removed from the process. It made me feel a lot more empowered.

The day was also a great reminder of the value of the work I do, to strengthen leadership in a wide range of organizations.


The skills that Becker, Low, and Lee (and their staff) are using to succeed and thrive as legislators are the same skills that are needed in so many organizations.


From creative agencies pitching clients and recruiting new hires…

To startups pitching VCs…

To nonprofits trying to tell a compelling story to donors…


Whether businesses, nonprofits, or government, success ultimately comes down to human-to-human connection.


If you want to make an impact and effect change, you need to be able to build rapport, listen well, tell stories, tailor your messaging, and think on your feet to respond in the moment.


These are not the only skills of effective leadership, but they are critical skills.


They’re also the exact skills I love to help leaders and HiPo’s develop through my Improv Leadership Training program.

Like the creative agency I’m working with right now, using improv activities to help their leaders and HiPo’s connect better with audiences, tell stories more effectively, and think on their feet. (I just wrapped with cohort #1, and will start with cohort #2 in May.)

Click here for the longer list of outcomes my improv activities are designed to achieve.

All while having a blast.

And the best part?

You don’t even have to catch a 7:00 AM bus to do it.