A Leading Question: McGinn on the Shape of Experience

Jul 31, 2013

Editor's note: KPLU has asked all nine candidates in the Seattle mayoral race to tell us about a time when his or her leadership skills were put to the test. One candidate's answer follows.  

Of the nine candidates running for mayor of Seattle, only Mike McGinn has first-hand experience. Leading up to next Tuesday’s primary, KPLU has been asking all the candidates to talk about a time when their leadership was tested.

You could say Mayor Mike McGinn’s leadership skills have been put to the test every day for the past 4 years. How he’s dealt with it has a lot to do with a personal change he made shortly after taking office.

It was the beginning of 2009. McGinn had just come off an adrenaline filled campaign when he was hit with the 24/7 stress of  being mayor.

“It’s a hard job. I had to make a lot of decisions. I had to work from morning to night  and what I discovered was, in order to bring good focus and good energy to all my meetings, I needed to be in shape,” McGinn said during an interview at his campaign headquarters in the International District.

He went on a diet and lost 40 lbs. He also revamped his entire schedule, making sure time was set aside for exercise, family and sleep.

“Every night, I turn off all my electronics by a certain time of the evening. At 10:30 p.m. or so, I turn off all the electronics,” McGinn said.

McGinn, who likes to play basketball in his spare time, says the lifestyle changes are not unlike what an athlete does to be able to play at the top of his game everyday.  

Still, he acknowledges,he made rookie mistakes when he was first took office. A community activist who ’d never held public office, McGinn says at first he would bluntly express his opinions.

“I’ve had to kind of learn the art of political speak, I suppose," he said.

In many ways, McGinn still sees himself as an outsider, fighting for what he believes in and letting the chips fall where they may.

He cites the deal he struck with the Department of Justice to reform the Seattle Police Department as an example of his willingness to go against the grain. Some critics said McGinn was too adversarial in the process. But he says he felt strongly that the original Department of Justice proposal didn’t go far enough in getting buy-in from all the parties involved.

“The easy political thing to do would have been to sign off immediately on an agreement and let it go, but I thought the better thing to do was to do something that was responsive  to not just the community but to the police as well. We need to listen to them too if we want them to work hard. That's our job as the employer. That's my job as Mayor,” McGinn said.

McGinn says a big part of leadership is listening to people inside and outside of city hall.