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Jessica R. Dreistadt Headshot

My Unsolicited Advice for the 113th U.S. Congress

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I am beyond thrilled that the 113th U.S. Congress includes nearly 100 women. As a woman, I am excited that there will be more people like me, at least in terms of gender, in our U.S. House and Senate. But as an American, I especially value the expanded range of experiences, thoughts, feelings, and interactions that typically result when a group diversifies. In my view, this leads to stronger, more sustainable decisions that take into consideration, and fulfill, the needs of a greater number of people.

I consider myself to be a feminist, and feminine, leader. I do not view feminist/feminine leadership as being divisive or based on a foundation of difference. Rather, I see feminist/feminine leadership as being about integrating and balancing the whole, being intentional about the process as well as the outcomes, expressing understanding and compassion for all people, and creating openings for possibilities.

At the risk of sounding sexist, I would like to suggest that all members of Congress -- and all leaders for that matter -- would benefit from women's ways of knowing, being and doing. While this vague description can have multiple meanings, for the purpose of this article I am going to simplify my conceptualization of feminist/feminine leadership using four ideas: learning, listening, loving, and leading.

Learning means exploring, connecting and integrating new ideas, not just confirming or disconfirming whether or not an idea should be considered based on our political agenda or ingrained habits of thought. To learn, we need to be vulnerable, release our expectations and welcome transformation. When we are continuously open to learning, we can base the process we use to interact and make decisions on the development of an expansive, collective wisdom.

Listening is a critical component of learning. Listening intently to others is not only an expression of respect, it is also a means to expand our hearts and our minds. Elected officials need to listen to all constituents, regardless of their organizational affiliation, and all constituents need to listen to their elected officials, regardless of their political affiliation. Without listening, opportunities for dialogue and learning are diminished. We need to listen not only to each other, but also to our own intuition when we make decisions.

Loving is the process of expressing compassion and empathy for all human beings. This includes not only all constituents, but also all other elected officials. When we interact and act based on love and courage rather than animosity and fear, the possibilities for personal and political progress expand.

Leading includes the process of considering and integrating diverse perspectives, but it also requires the ability and willingness to risk aversion by taking a stand. Good leaders intentionally respond to their followers and colleagues, but they also challenge them to do and be something more spectacular than they might have imagined on their own.

I truly do think that both of the representatives from my community and both of my state's senators, who are all men by the way, are phenomenal people. They care deeply about our future, they work exceptionally hard, and they have brilliant ideas. We may not agree on all of the details, but I respect their public service and their leadership. Yet like all leaders, including me, they are human. We all overlook important concepts and make poor decisions from time to time. It would not be fair for me to expect perfection or even congruence with my own ideas about good governance as the former is impossible and the latter would represent lack of independent thought. What I do expect, or at least hope, is for our elected officials to learn about and selectively integrate some of the aforementioned ideas from feminist/feminine leadership to enhance their effectiveness as leaders as well as the overall performance of our legislative branch of government.

Like most Americans, I am ready for politics unusual. We all need to take bold risks to unite our country and to move us forward. I challenge the new Congress to embrace some of these ideas about being open, holistic, and relational. I know that I will.