Tom Lee | Crain's Nashville

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Tom Lee


As a public affairs and lobbying subsidiary of the Frost Brown Todd law firm in Nashville, CivicPoint assists businesses and organizations in navigating the public policy process and handling government relations CivicPoint has offices in Tennesse, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. 

The Mistake:

My biggest mistake was underestimating the depth of the challenge in government relations. I say that because when I made the transition into that work more than a decade ago after having done television and trying cases as a lawyer, I thought the transition would be relatively easy.

I've always loved politics and government and I covered it as a reporter, so I knew my way around the geography. What took me a long time to appreciate was the way to do this work professionally, and the value of collaboration versus being a lone wolf.

As a result, I wasn't always as effective out there when I started.

I remember one incident in particular where a client wanted a legislative hearing that was about to happen, to not happen. There was a business reason they had, but what they wanted was a week's delay. My responsibility was to somehow convince a legislative committee not have the hearing for a week's time.

I hadn't been involved in the issue at all, and I didn't know the parties who were working on the issue. But I plunged ahead, and essentially relied on the good graces of a friendly legislator to ask for a week's worth of time to consider some of the issues of the debate. There were other people in that issue who wanted that hearing right away, and when they found out that I had been responsible, they were mad.

To tell you the truth, I accomplished a client goal, but it also cost me a solid year in rebuilding a relationship of trust with some of the other advocates who were involved.

Smarts do count, but reputation and integrity are everything.

The Lesson:

With a little more judgment and experience, I would have said, "I don't think I can do what you're asking." There wasn't a way to accomplish that and do it in a professional manner that brought into account all the other interests in the group.

I learned that it is almost impossible in the legislative process to get quick results. There are some things that are easier to accomplish than others and some that take less time – but things that are worth doing in the political process take time.

Any legislative body is a very small community and there are always people who have worked in it longer and are better than you are. You have to respect that reality. You have to build relationships and have the respect of your colleagues and the legislature.

You can be as smart as you think you are, but if people don't trust you, you get nowhere. Smarts do count, but reputation and integrity are everything.

Ultimately, I learned that you just don't storm into issues where you haven't been involved, get involved and expect there not to be collateral damage. I do not barrel into committee rooms anymore expecting to change the outcomes overnight.

Follow CivicPoint on Twitter at @CivicPoint

Photo courtesy of CivicPoint.

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