Maeve for Council: Thick Skin

March 23, 2014

“Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

The first thing most people say to me when I tell them I’m thinking about running for council is, “You’ll need thick skin.” We, the hoi polloi, are quick to judge our public servants and not afraid to shout about it, to their face, at the grocery store, in front of their loved ones.

One person said, “You appear to have thick skin, but I’m not sure you actually do.” I took this dermatological observation as a compliment (I don’t look like a rhinoceros) but it did make me wonder: can I take the negativity?

Let’s say I run for council. If you know me, you know I would put the community before my personal needs. This isn’t rhetoric: you can ask (most of) my friends and they will confirm this statement.

And yet, if elected, I would be under the same scrutiny as our current municipal councillors are today—from the moment I’m elected. I will have taken no decisions on the Somenos Marsh, the police station, the pool, Catalyst taxes, but from the moment I sit behind the half-moon shaped desk in council chambers, I represent those decisions. I become one of THEM. This opinion will likely extend to some of those friends who I say would defend me today. 

Duncan City Councillor Michelle Staples explained that she used to attend events as Michelle, but once elected she was now Councillor Staples—and not by her choosing. It’s just the perception the public has when you move from the public gallery to the councillor’s chair.

Why is a municipal councillor the punching bag for all that ails the community? They aren’t paid much, they put in so many hours learning and understanding the process and issues related to the community, and they take decisions on questions to which there are no simple answers. Is it because their decisions don’t represent ours? Are we not intelligent enough to accept that not all decisions will go our way?

It’s complicated, stressful work and yet as Mr. Dangerfield says…

Here’s what I think is the secret to having thick skin is:

  • Knowing what my strengths are (curious, connector, calm under pressure, intelligent, funny, good-looking, athletic, rich, always well-dressed, meticulous house cleaner, five-star chef, classically trained pianist, virtuoso on the violin…dreamer);
  • Staying true to my values so I feel good about the decision I make (given how many politicians stray, this one may be a challenge — will explore likelihood of a fall from grace); and
  • Keeping perspective of where an issue sits in the grand scheme when an angry resident decides the right time to opine on my council work is when my youngest is on the verge of a tantrum because she’s hungry and tired (then again, maybe the tantrum will work in my favour…)

And, I will take Hilary Clinton’s sage advice, “It is important to take criticism seriously but not personally. Your critics can be your best friends. Listen and learn but don’t get dragged down.”

Good tip, Hils. Will apply, if elected.

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7 comments

  1. It’s a reality that the moment you start casting votes, people will start becoming disappointed with you. Doesn’t matter who you are, or what level of government you are elected to.

    I believe the way to reduce personal attacks is to be transparent with voters. They may not always like what you say or how you vote, but they can usually tell when someone is being up front with them and making a sincere effort.

    It won’t eliminate the need for thick skin, but it might prevent turning it into rawhide. 🙂

  2. I’m doing a Royal Roads course on leadership right now, and one of the standard characteristics of successful leaders is the ability to align your values with your vision, and then articulate your vision. I think you live pretty close to your values already, and you’re a fabulous communicator. I have no doubts of your success.

    That being said, I’d be glad to pull together some mock heckling opportunities to help you develop your tolerance.

    1. Thanks for your support and generous offer Leanne. I think you’re on to something. You should propose a new course to your Royal Roads colleagues: Thick Skin Intervention for Potential Politicians (or TSIPP).

    1. Barb,

      Good housekeeping was in the dreamer category. But I’m glad that’s the only thing on that list that seemed out of place to you!

      M.

    1. Less agenda to advance (ugh), more a list of things that are important to me and the people I speak with, and actions I can take to make them happen.

      Will post that list on this blog when it’s ready for your feedback, which I will take seriously but not personally. 🙂

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