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Leadership Lessons—From Washington, D.C.

Last week about 500 of us made our annual trek to Capitol Hill to meet with our Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen (I’ll refer to both in this article as Congressmen). Regardless of your party affiliation it is an amazing event. This is my 11th year of lobbying with the International Franchise Association.

We go each year to fight for small business—not just franchising.

On Tuesday we heard speeches from Senator John Boehner (current speaker of the House of Representatives) and the former Governor from Mississippi from 2004 – 2012, Haley Barbour. (He received kudos for how he handled Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi). Both addressed our group on topics key to small business. I was most impressed with Governor Barbour because of his keen understanding of the political arena—even though he has not held office for several years.

After a 45-minute presentation, without using notes or a teleprompter, Barbour took questions from the audience about several upcoming races. The governor was well versed on all of them. One can tell he is a leader and always has been a leader. He did what leaders do—know their business. His son is a small businessman and he is concerned with some of the legislation being considered that does anything but help small business.

One case in point is the $15 minimum wage law that was recently passed in Seattle. That is an 82-percent increase from the current minimum wage. Regardless of how many years the city has given small business to increase wages to meet the new minimum, this ruling puts a huge hurt on many businesses—even those in glass. Many people, like me, know this will stunt growth and simply increase costs of services. Someone has to pay. Unfortunately it will be consumers. And there are efforts underway to enact huge changes in minimum wage at the local, state and federal levels.

This one example may help you understand why we go to the hill—to fight legislation like this. Another issue is the Affordable Care Act provision that full time should be classified as 30 hours instead of 40 hours. Really? Does that make any sense at all to a business person?

Six of us asked for gallery passes to observe the Senate and the House in session. It was fascinating to watch leaders from both parties discuss various matters. We were there when the House voted to approve the amendment regarding training Syrian troops to fight ISIS.

I had never seen a vote being taken before. When a vote is called many Congressmen are in their offices, across the street from the Capitol, doing such things like meeting constituents—just like our Congressmen did with us a short time before. When the vote was called the Congressmen had just 15 minutes to get from their offices to the House of Representatives to cast their votes.

The casting of votes is now done through technology where Congressmen take out a “special card” and swipe it in the voting machine similar to a credit card swiper. They then vote Y or N. Instantaneously, the vote is counted and displayed like a scoreboard at a baseball game. Another large tote-board, with all the Congressmen’s names, identifies how they voted.

There are 435 Congressmen. With three minutes left for voting only 93 had voted. In just a few short minutes another 337 votes were cast.

Again, I was reminded how important it is for every small business owner to get involved in the political process and talk with their local politicians. We need to constantly remind them of what it is like to own a small business as many of them have never been in our shoes.

Later that afternoon we hosted a reception for the Senators, Congressmen and staffers we met. Companies such as McDonalds, Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, Chick-Fil-A, Pizza Hut and others provided food. I love talking to the staffers to better understand why they came to Washington.

One young man came to D.C. as an intern for a Senator after eight years of service in the Army. When he came to Washington he went to college on the GI Bill. When he finished work every day at 5 p.m. he would jump on the Metro and take a 2-hour train ride to the college he attended outside of D.C. He made the time to study because getting a degree was very important to him. Now he is getting his graduate degree from the same school, and is on staff with a Congressmen from South Texas.

I asked him why he did it. He told me that he was young and now was the time to prepare for his future.

That is what leaders do. They do what others don’t do. They do what many consider would be impossible. They get out of their comfort zone.

This week I’d like for you to reach out to your Representatives and ask to meet with them to find out how they are helping protect you as a small business owner. You may think this is difficult—that’s okay.  Again, leaders get out of their comfort zone—especially when it comes to protecting themselves and their family.

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