Read a lot, find your purpose and be yourself.
Those were just a few of the nuggets of wisdom offered by the two top leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives: Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
In back-to-back meetings on Wednesday at the Capitol, each of these high-ranking members of Congress offered leadership advice for the visiting Report to the Nation delegates. This was no mere photo op. Ryan and Pelosi sat down at their conference tables and engaged in a real conversation.
On one of Washington’s busiest days of the year, this was yet another example of how the Scouting name opens doors.
House Speaker Paul Ryan
When Ryan entered, the Report to the Nation delegates introduced themselves and gave their hometown.
Eagle Scout Bogan Garcia said he’s from Oklahoma, and Ryan’s eyes lit up. His wife grew up in Madill, Okla., about two hours south of Bogan’s hometown.
Ryan helped point Bogan toward the Will Rogers statue down the hall. He also mentioned that he and his wife have two dogs: Boomer and Sooner, named after the University of Oklahoma fight song.
Now it was Bogan’s turn for a question.
“What advice would you give to somebody trying to get their foot in the door in public office?” he asked.
“Read a lot. Do well in school. Study the classics,” Ryan said. “You want to understand political philosophy. Read the founders; read the Federalist Papers. Read the founding documents.”
This process, Ryan said, will help young people like Bogan see if politics is right for them. If they’re still interested, they can turn that education into action.
“And that means you should volunteer. Volunteer on a campaign, and see what that’s like. And then get an internship with an elected official — just to get a sense for what it’s like,” Ryan said. “Because these jobs are very different in reality than what they seem to be in perception.”
So what is Ryan’s job really like? It’s a lot of meetings and legislative work, he said. He plans legislation, works on legislation and discusses legislation. That explains why, as he told the Scouts, his typical work day begins at 6:20 a.m. and ends around midnight.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Less than an hour later, the delegates were in Pelosi’s office where Eden Tillotson, a Venturer and Sea Scout from California, asked a question.
“What leadership advice would you give to young people?” she asked.
“Of course, you all could give us advice,” Pelosi began.
She then outlined three things that form an effective leader: vision, knowledge and a plan.
Vision: “If you want other people to follow your lead, it’s important for them to know what motivates you,” Pelosi said.
Knowledge: “Then be informed about it,” she continued. “Know what you’re talking about. When you acquire knowledge, people respect your judgment.”
A plan: “If I have a cause and I want to attract more people do it, what is my plan? A vision without a plan is a fantasy,” Pelosi said. “A vision with a plan can help you accomplish something.”
Eagles on staff
Ryan has two Eagle Scouts on his staff; Pelosi has one.
Pelosi’s senior advisor is Michael Long, and Pelosi said he brings Scouting values to the office each day.
“He’s an Eagle Scout,” Pelosi said. “That seems to be the biggest compliment that anyone can have.”
Long said he remembers the first time he saw the Report to the Nation delegation visit Pelosi’s office.
His job was answering phones at the front desk — the first person people see when walking in. When the delegation arrived, he noticed the Scout uniforms and struck up a conversation with his fellow Scouts.
“I was so busy greeting and talking to people that the leader was standing there for about five minutes before we actually realized she was there,” Long said.
These days, Long works closely with Eagle Scout staffers serving congressmen from both parties.
“There’s a big contingent here of Eagle Scouts and Philmont staffers,” he said. “And we hang out and help each other. It’s not about politics; it’s about what we learned in Scouting and those common threads.”
Long didn’t plan to be an Eagle Scout when he joined. He had something else that motivated him to show up at that first troop meeting.
“I got in Scouting because I wanted to go camping,” he said. “Full stop. Then I started camping and wanted to be on camp staff because the camp staff was cool. So then I got on camp staff, and I wanted to do Order of the Arrow because I wanted to do what they were doing.”
These days, he has a dream job on Capitol Hill and still keeps up with those troopmates from way back when.
“My lifelong friends, who are on a text chain with me right now, are my tentmates from camp staff,” he said. “One’s in D.C., one’s in New York, one’s in North Carolina. And we talk almost every day.
“We travel, we’ve gone to each other’s weddings, and we’ve seen people have kids. It is a part of my life.”
Follow the Report to the Nation
Photos by Michael Roytek and Randy Piland. See more photos here.