Remembering Leo

Our founder, Leo T. McCarthy, was known for his actions as a public figure. Those who knew him, understood what made hime tick, like his former Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications, Steve Hopcraft. Steve recently spoke at our McCarthy Award ceremony and gave insight into Leo McCarthy: His Values, and What He Might Say to the 2019 McCarthy Center Fellows.

Leo was an immigrant – and treated everyone with respect. You should do the same.

Leo displayed no sense of entitlement, even when occupying powerful positions. I won’t say he was humble, because it took a strong self-confidence to handle all the forces of political life without crumbling. But, having come to Pier 38 as a small boy in the midst of the Great Depression, he had a way of making everyone feel welcome and important. 

From the Greyhound bus driver who used to take him from Sacramento to San Francisco when he was speaker of the Assembly, to the CHP officers who drove him around as Lieutenant Governor to his staff from top to bottom, to those patients he met while visiting nursing homes across the state, everyone was treated with dignity and respect.

It’s easy to look beyond the person taking care of the most basic tasks, but each of these individuals has something to offer you. And the work they are doing is essential and valuable. Make them feel you know that.

Leo was comfortable with all types of people – I think it was partly because he grew up in a bar. 

Leo exhibited comfort and concern to all the different people who crossed his path. It made sense to me when I learned that he had spent much of his afterschool youth helping out in his fathers Mission neighborhood bar. Of course, he could talk to anyone – a skill that would be critical to his political success.

Embrace diversity, risk opening up to people who are different. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s also how you grow socially. Plus, most people appreciate being noticed and engaged. Treat everyone like a potential friend (okay, maybe not your political enemies, but everyone else).

Leadership is inspiring others to do better the things they can do, and to rise to learn things they can’t yet do.

Leo would challenge you to be better each day; to grow to new heights. He would treat you as leaders of your generation, because by winning a McCarthy Center fellowship, you have proven that you are a leader, or you would not have been chosen.

Find a leadership style that is genuine to you, and that lifts up those with whom you work. Leo would ALWAYS challenge his staff. I don’t remember any time giving him prepared remarks without him probing for newer statistics, more dramatic personal stories, more powerful turns of phrase or points not made.

I used to believe it was part of his obsession to have the very latest information, but now I also think it might have also been his way of pushing his staff. 

Leo put his career into our hands and trusted us to do our best. That is a confidence-building method, because we knew he believed in our ability to succeed, even if we might have our doubts about ourselves.

Trust those around you, and place confidence in yourself and their abilities. The resulting raised confidence and self-confidence will produce positive results.

Do something for the people – remember why you are in public life.

For Leo, public office had as its purpose helping people. If that’s not why you’re there, then go into private business. Your job in public policy or government is to work for the people. So every day, you should ask yourself, “What am I going to do for the people today?” This will also help you to ignore the many distractions that keep you from advancing toward your goal.

Stay true to your best values; don’t be distracted or corrupted.

There was not a whiff of corruption or hint of corruptibility coming from Leo. Leo focused on improving public policy. Leo was not in politics to get rich, or to indulge in the many and varied enticements freely offered to elected officeholders. If something feels wrong to you, it most likely is wrong. Trust your instincts and follow your conscience.

Leo lived true to his values to be a good father as well as public official. Indeed, he was attacked during a speakership fight for being a “Boy Scout,” who went home to his family each night, rather than frequenting the political fundraisers and watering holes. The good old boys wanted one of their own as leader.  Leo paid a political price for valuing his family, and he paid it willingly.

Stay true to your values and what you know is right, even when it costs you in the short run.

Failure is the Constant Companion of Success

We are afraid to fail, especially in a field, such as government, politics or public policy, where our failures are public. Everyone can see us fail and it is embarrassing and disheartening. But failure is necessary. The best of the best in every field fail more often than they succeed. Take the best baseball hitter – he fails 7 of every 10 at bats – or the best shooter in the NBA – misses more shots than he makes in a season. Failure is the constant companion of success; without trying and making errors, there is no learning winning habits. Every failure to reach your goal is simply a lesson to learn to help you get further along.

Make the McCarthy Center Proud of You – Act Like an Ethical Leader.

Be proud of your accomplishments as a McCarthy Center Fellow: Leo would be proud of you, and he would spur you to follow in his footsteps of ethical public leadership and service.

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