Acknowledging the strong polarization in Washington and throughout the country, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu urged both a need for empathy among the nation’s leaders and compromise across party lines when he spoke at Tuck on April 8.
“Playing a political card might help you win an argument in the short term, but at the end of the day, that might kill the ability to get something done in the right reasons and the right way,” Sununu, an ex officio member of Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees, told students.
During his time in office, Sununu has worked to build bridges among lawmakers. He has made investing in mental health and solving the opioid crisis some of his top priorities, as New Hampshire ranks as one of the country’s top states for opioid-related deaths.
Sununu said that to make progress in politics, it’s important to have leaders who can empathize with those who have different opinions and who don’t turn disagreements into full-blown arguments.
Good leaders are also able to learn from their mistakes. Looking back on his own time in office thus far, Sununu expressed disappointment with the outcome of one of his major initiatives—Marsy’s Law—a constitutional amendment that would have established equal rights for crime victims. It was defeated in the New Hampshire House last year. Sununu said he didn’t regret his decision to support the bill but learned valuable lessons from the outcome.
It’s hard to say no—everyone likes people who say yes. But the responsibility of leadership comes with that response of having to say no, define it, and back it up.
“Almost everything I learned in terms of leadership and team-building all happened because I didn’t do something right, and I had to learn by that failure,” Sununu said. “It sounds cliché, but it’s so true.”
That sentiment was echoed by Tuck professor and former New Hampshire governor John Lynch, who teaches one of Tuck’s most popular electives, “The CEO Experience.” Lynch said that effective governors are those who can build trust with the department heads and legislators with whom they work. Another crucial aspect of good leaders: They’re also able to earn the trust of the people.
“Without that trust, it is difficult for a governor to get much accomplished,” said Lynch, who has worked in the private and public sector. Prior to becoming the democratic governor of the Granite State for an unprecedented four terms, he served as CEO of international furniture manufacturer Knoll. “It is critical to build a good team and have leaders who trust each other and want to work together in a collaborative way on issues important to the people of the state.”
Bringing the principles and philosophy of business into government is something that Sununu also thinks about often. The secret, he said, is to think beyond short-term matters, such as the next election, and to “truly do what business does and think long term—five, 10, or 20 years down the road.”
“It’s hard to say no—everyone likes people who say yes,” Sununu said. “But the responsibility of leadership comes with that response of having to say no, define it, and back it up.”