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Putting Your Name on the Ballot

letter from kansas leadership center president & CEO Ed O’Malley

You don’t need a position to lead. But our state needs
more people in key roles with the ability to exercise leadership.
Maybe you should be one of them.


Run for office. At least consider it. Don’t dismiss it out of hand. I’m feeling bullish on encouraging people to run for office lately. It’s an election year. Whether you’ve considered running before or not, please keep reading with an open mind. (By the way, an open mind is so useful in politics today.)

Nine years ago, as we started the Kansas Leadership Center, we began developing a set of ideas, based on listening to Kansans. A core idea then and now in our work is that leadership is an activity, not a position.

And now here I am, encouraging you to seek a position. What gives?

You don’t need a position to exercise leadership, but we do need more people in key civic positions who know how to exercise leadership and have the inspiration and courage to do so.

An aspiration listed in the KLC logic model (an internal guiding document) states:


“KLC alumni are positioned in key roles and functions in civic life and are using their authority to make progress on challenging issues affecting the common good.”


The ideas we teach at KLC – the principles and four competencies – are useful anywhere one tries to mobilize others. And from my experience as a legislator and from working with elected officials at all levels, I believe these ideas are especially useful for leadership in the always vexing and complicated political environment.

In his classic work “The Political Vocation,” Paul Tillett writes (please forgive the use of male pronouns as it was written in 1965) that at least theoretically:


“He (the politician) does best by appealing coolly to reason … does not attempt to stir the emotions and does not stoop to crass appeals to self-interest. He is a discussion leader. … Though his is only one voice among many, it is a voice that stands out for its sanity and coolness.”


KLC competencies – manage self, diagnose situations, intervene skillfully and energize others – help public officials live out that aspirational description. In another classic work, “The Lawmakers” by James David Barber, the author divides all lawmakers into four groups:

• The spectator – someone who likes being an elected official, but spends little energy and has no interest in working to advance solutions on issues.

The advertiser – someone who is there to advance their favorite/pet issue, with little regard to other issues at play.

• The reluctant – someone who feels they have to serve, out of obligation, but has no passion and little commitment.

• The lawmaker – someone who is there to make laws, to do their part in solving the myriad problems facing a state or community.

Read Barber’s book and you’re left thinking that it’s more of these lawmakers we need in elected bodies.

KLC cares little about where you are on the partisan continuum but cares greatly that the ideas our participants learn become more a part of Kansas political life. The ideas aren’t partisan, and our experience and research suggest more progress would be made on our state and communities’ daunting challenges if more politicians understood how to, among other KLC ideas, work across factions, distinguish technical and adaptive work, choose among competing values, act experimentally,
speak to loss and so on.

Serving in the Legislature was a unique endeavor. It taught me so much about others and myself. It gave me a laboratory to exercise leadership for the common good. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I failed. I met good people from across the political spectrum who cared deeply for Kansas. It made me a better person and a better Kansan.

If you think there might be a political vocation in you … If you think you have the ability to be a “lawmaker”… If you want a unique experience and one that will bring out the best Kansan in you … Put your name on a ballot. Any ballot. Run.


Ed O’Malley
president & CEO
kansas leadership center



This article was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit


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