Virginia’s junior U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D) delivered a simple message on leadership to Loudoun’s Chamber of Commerce, which he connected to his experience at every level of public service, from a Richmond city councilman to vice presidential candidate.
“I learned from a really wonderful city council member one day, he said all successes of organizations are about goals plus relationships. For some reason that really stuck with me; that’s my one piece of advice. I’ve used this for 25 years,” Kaine said. “Success in an organization is goals plus relationships. And If there’s a problem, it’s usually a goals problem or a relationships problem.”
Kaine told a room full of Loudoun business and community leaders that he found the opportunity to discuss leadership refreshing, because he most frequently talks about health care, the federal budget, and foreign relations.
“I get asked to talk about those things a lot, I don’t get asked to talk about leadership very much,” he said.
The senator admitted he never took a leadership or management course, instead relying on “scar tissue, school of hard knocks lessons” from his time as a managing partner at his law firm, a Richmond city councilman, mayor of Richmond, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Virginia governor, U.S. senator, and vice presidential candidate.
He drew examples from every phase of his political career. When he was elected to the Richmond city council in 1994, it was the No. 2 city for homicide in the U.S. “There wasn’t really a goal, so we spent time just really banging our heads together … and we announced something very bold to our citizens,” he said. “We’re going to reduce violent crime by 30 percent in the Richmond area by the year 2000. We felt that was a big goal, and we just told everybody to hold us accountable for it.”
By 2000, Kaine said, Richmond’s violent crime rate had decreased 55 percent and homicide was down 60 percent.
“If we hadn’t made that goal and held ourselves accountable to it, we probably wouldn’t have made that progress. It really taught me a lot about goal setting,” he said.
Kaine also spoke on the importance of relationships, and a leader’s role as an example.
“Of the two, relationships is the hardest. You set the goal, but it’s about the teamwork and the collaboration and leveraging relationships in order to achieve what you wanted,” he said.
He also stressed relationships when goals aren’t achieved, like his first political defeat last year as a vice-presidential candidate.
“One of the most painful nights of my life was November  2016, and I remember when it was really clear we were going to lose, one of my first thoughts was, I have an awful lot of young people who are extremely altruistic and want to be about public service who just sweated anywhere from 2 years to 6 months … this is going to be very devastating to them,” Kaine said.
“We all go through pluses and minuses in life, and I wouldn’t want this to turn them away from being interested in public service… So the one thing I most wanted to do that night … was to get the young staffers together and tell them this is just part of the whole thing, you should not let this dissuade you from your passion to serve others.”
The senator also applied his lesson to national issues, and fielded questions about foreign diplomacy and higher education.
“We don’t have [a foreign policy strategy]. We really haven’t had one since the Soviet Union collapsed,” Kaine said. “We had a foreign policy strategy, the Truman Doctrine, that lasted through presidents of both parties and congresses of both parties from 1947 to 1991. Since then, we’ve been in kind of a non-strategic moment. You have to have a strategy, then you have to have goals, then you have to leverage the relationships to achieve them.”
Talking about the battle against ISIS, as the Islamic State “loses real estate” in the Middle East, Kaine predicts they’ll carry out more terrorist attacks abroad.
“You don’t stop that with an infantry battalion. The way you stop the one-off attacks is sharing information. If you attack alliances like NATO, or get in a skirmish with Angela Merkel or people who are our [allies], who we share information with, and they share a little less information with you … then you actually make yourself weaker in your goal of defeating ISIS. It’s goals plus relationships,” Kaine said. “If the U.S. doesn’t value our alliances… we can have the best goals in the world but we’re not going to be successful.”
John is an intern with Loudoun Now. He’s studying English and economics at the University of Virginia.