In my premiere column (Capitol Weekly, May 25), I listed patience and timing
among the key attributes that a lobbyist must have to be successful. No one
has articulated the concept better than the Zen Master of basketball:
“There’s no percentage in trying to push the river or speed up the harvest.
The farmer who’s so eager to help his crops grow that he slips out at night
and tugs on the shoots inevitably ends up going hungry.” – Sacred Hoops:
Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson, p.194.
Every advocate can probably relate an example of how they impatiently
“snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.” (For the best ones, it happened
once at most–defeat or near defeat occasioned by impatience can be a great
The requisite patience can be particularly difficult when you have an antsy
client who does not fully comprehend the rhythms and cycles of the
Legislature. In such a situation, you must not only resist whatever natural
tendency you have favoring activity for its own sake, but also must pressure
from your client to “do something, anything.”
As we discussed last time, your mission is to devise and execute the right
game plan, reformulating it as appropriate to respond to events; it is NOT
to act on EVERY impulse.
Here is a true story from a few years ago that illustrates the point. A
lobbyist devised what appeared to be the right plan to enact legislation
considered vital by his client. Among other things, he spoke with the pro
tem, who informed him that the issue would be dealt with (favorably to the
client) “at the right time.” The client became progressively more worried as
the legislative session unfolded because the sponsored bill had not had a
hearing and the issue was apparently not being addressed. The client put so
much pressure on the lobbyist that, against his better judgment (and against
the repeated dictates of the pro tem), he went to the relevant
policy-committee chair to ask that the bill be set for hearing. I’ll spare
you the ugly details: After a string of expletives, the committee chair
informed the lobbyist that he’d be happy to set, and kill, the bill.
The story has a happy ending: The lobbyist repaired the damage, the issue
was resolved to his client’s satisfaction (at the pro tem’s “right time”)
and he learned a priceless lesson about patience and timing. The other
important lesson from this episode relates to managing the client and its
expectations–that’s for another day and a future column.
One of the best ways to fully grasp the importance of patience is to put
yourself in the place of the people you are dealing with as you shepherd
your issue through the Legislature. For example, if you were a legislator or
a committee consultant, would you really want to be visited every day by
every lobbyist who had an issue pending before your committee?
Remember, as an advocate, you must be a good diagnostician, analyst,
strategist and tactician. To succeed tactically in implementing your
carefully planned strategy, FIGHT THE URGE to overdo. Trust that if you have
the right plan and implement it wisely, you are doing all you can to enhance
the likelihood of success. As Ben Franklin so wisely put it: “Do not confuse
activity with action.”