Not enough schmoozing in DC?

Published 1:48 am Saturday, October 5, 2013

In the midst of the name-calling and the live mic “uh-oh” that is the government shutdown, an opinion from former GE chairman Jack Welch appeared in my LinkedIn feed. Welch says businesses can learn a lot from what the government isn’t doing right now.

The most important lesson, Welch wrote, is this: You have to schmooze.

But, he clarified, you have to schmooze early and often.

“You can’t suddenly burst out of your office to build relationships when you hear rumbles of trouble from down below, and it’s certainly too late by the time a crisis flares,” he wrote. “No, schmoozing has to be what you do all the time as a leader; it has to be a massive part of your job. Walking around, having a coffee, sitting and listening, getting real, letting people get real with you. Showing who you are, what you care about, exposing your hopes and dreams and values. Asking people the same about themselves.

Building — in two big fat words — trust and transparency.”

He’s not encouraging, for instance, President Obama to schmooze with Nancy Pelosi or House Speaker John Boehner with Eric Cantor. He’s talking about something much more difficult.

“You have to schmooze with your known ‘adversaries’ too,” he wrote. “For instance, your union, or the group of employees who hate your new strategy and want the old one back. The resistors that exist in every organization. The perennial naysayers. Smart and annoying. Them.”

Without an ongoing dialogue with those who disagree with you, you will, he said, find yourself shut down.

Sound like anything you’ve heard on the news this week?

CNN has replayed a recent interview with President Bill Clinton in which he talked about how he spoke with then Speaker Newt Gingrich, who would have been considered a foe, daily. A friend pointed out that the difference in Clinton talking with Gingrich and Obama talking (or not talking, as the case may be) with Boehner now is that if Gingrich and Clinton reached a compromise, the Speaker had enough control of the House to bring the party in line. It appears not to be the same with Boehner.

So perhaps Boehner could start with people of the same stripes and different opinions, and work his way up to “schmoozing” with the president. The president, who has refused to negotiate, could do likewise.

It’s hard to believe there’s not enough of it in Washington, but Jack’s a smart guy. The lesson is a good one for all of us. Instead of being foes, we can be friends with differing opinions. We can agree to disagree and work together on the points on which we do agree. I like that.