An Interview With Doug Gross - Video | Jeff Bullock

Moral Leadership Outlook: An Interview With Doug Gross

The first blog post on my site, besides “About My Blog”, is titled “Leadership Matters For A Changing World”. In it, I quote James Davidson Hunter’s book, To Change The World. 

My new video interview series has taken inspiration from it as, I believe, it deserves much more thought from those individuals seeking to learn, grow, and lead within their own spheres of influence. 

Hunter describes leadership… “…as a set of practices surrounding the legitimate use of gifts, resources, position, and therefore influence (or relational power).  But leadership is not simply one half of a dichotomy that divides the world between leaders and followers…nor does it operate on a single continuum where more influence for one person or group will mean less for another.  [Rather], the fact is that our lives are constituted by multiple spheres of activity and relationship—not just one–and in each of these, we have varying kinds and evolving degrees of influence.  [In other words], it is our influence within the range of spheres of activity and relationship that defines the leadership we exercise (255).”

Please consider this as you engage with each video these next few months.

More about doug Gross

Douglas E. Gross is a member of BrownWinick and has extensive expertise in the corporate and government relations areas of law. He has provided business and legal assistance to numerous organizations to assist them in achieving their goals. Doug has experience with the initial organization of agricultural operations, legislative and governmental agency representation, including regulatory matters and economic development opportunities.

Prior to entering the practice of law, Doug served as Chief of Staff to Governor Terry Branstad, Director of Business and Finance at the Iowa State Board of Regents, Administrative Assistant to Governor Robert D. Ray, Director of Fuels Division of the Iowa Energy Policy Council, Chief Legislative Assistant and Campaign Co-Manager for Congressman Tom Tauke, Legislative Field Director for the Iowa Republican Party and Legislative Intern to the Iowa General Assembly.

Doug has extensive campaign experience in Iowa, including involvement in numerous successful gubernatorial, congressional, and state legislative campaigns. Doug served as co-chair of President George W. Bush’s finance effort in Iowa and Chairman of Governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Doug was the 2002 Republican nominee for Governor of Iowa.

Doug received his B.A., summa cum laude, from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1977 and his J.D., with honors, from Drake University in 1985. Doug was a Lydia C. Roberts fellow at Columbia University’s School of International Affairs. Since 2005, Doug has been selected as a leader in Iowa for inclusion in Chambers USA® in the area of corporate/M&A. In 2010 Doug was selected for inclusion Best Lawyers® for his Government Relations practice, government contracts and in 2012 was named Best Lawyers’ Lawyer of the Year in Government Relations. Doug was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1986.

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Jeff Bullock: We’re with Doug Gross. And Doug is a very well known person here in Iowa, has run for governor, is a very well respected attorney, has a long, long career in civic engagement and public leadership, is a thinking person’s politician and has made significant contributions to Iowa and to our country. And so as part of our series on leadership, we’re interviewing leaders from around the state, and around the country. And we’re privileged to have you with us today.

Doug Gross: Good to be with you.

Jeff Bullock: And we’re pretty informal here in the University of Dubuque.

Doug Gross: Good.

Jeff Bullock: And so, tell me a little bit about yourself or tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get… I mean, here we are at this network, looking at the Iowa capital. It’s a beautiful Fall day. How did you get here? Did you just kind of land here? Or did you have to… or there’s a story?

Doug Gross: Well, first of all, after that introduction, I must be really old, given what you’ve been talking about but I am a little long in tooth. At least, I got a lot of tire marks on me. Let me put it that way. I’m here by the grace of God. I grew up in a family of ten kids. We didn’t know where the next meal literally is coming from. Well, we wore each other’s clothes. We used each other’s books. And we got ridiculed because we didn’t have any then. And so there’s no question in my mind that I’m a very fortunate person. It’s not really what I do but it’s what others have done. And most importantly, frankly, what God has graced me with.

Jeff Bullock: How will you speak of what others have done? So who are some of the others in your life that as you’ve intimated none of us gets anywhere on our own. So the great American myth is kind of the self-made person. Well, there is no self-made person. It’s, we’re all the beneficiaries of the people who have gone before us. So who are some of the people in your life that helped you to get where you are?

Doug Gross: Obviously, it starts with your family and your mother and your father, and my mother for being tough, and never saying no, you know, never giving up on anything, and being very loyal to the family, being tight with the family. And that’s made me get through some tough times. My father, for being gentle, and kind, and loving. Those combination’s a good combination to approach life.

And then, as you got beyond the family, one of the most important impact, the leaders in my life, is Bob Ray. I had the fortunate ability to work for him when I was quite young. And he taught me some, he was very difficult to work for because he would always wait to the very last second to make decisions. And I’m one who wants to make decisions like that but he always felt that the more information you have, the better decisions you make. And in fact, sometimes, decisions make themselves. And they’re better decisions that way. But he also taught me the importance of integrity.

Jeff Bullock: Okay

Doug Gross: That he would fret over a letter if he thought it anyway it reflected something that was different in what he, a position he had taken maybe 15 years ago. Integrity was everything to him. And being consistent and communication with people is very, very important to him. He’s just a fine, fine person.

I had a chance to work with Tom Tauke from Dubuque actually Loras College, sorry to mention that on your blog. Tom’s the chair of the board.

Jeff Bullock: Yes and he’s a fine man.

Doug Gross: He’s an awesome guy. And I ran, or was involved in running his first campaign in 1978. And that was a situation where actually no one thought Tom Tauke could win that race. He was probably 27, 28 years old, running against the incumbent congressman. Normally, the incumbents would win like 95% of the time. But Tom, first of all, he’s a very smart guy, one of the smartest guys I have ever met and an incredibly hardworker. And again, just never gave up. And as a result of it, Tom upset, and I had an opportunity to work for him and went to Washington, D.C. with him and saw how he made an immediate impact simply because of his intelligence and his work ethic.

Intelligence alone is usually not enough to get you anywhere. If you combine it with hardwork, it can get you almost anywhere. So Tom Tauke is an example of that.

Jeff Bullock: So you saw, let’s see, Bob Ray is, you kind of learned the lesson of integrity and tenacity, and kind of attention to details.

Doug Gross: Right.

Jeff Bullock: So being consistent with, with who you are, and whose you are. Tom Tauke, again, smartness and tenacity, work ethic. So what’s the lesson you learn from both of them, leadership wise, that in addition to these things, that you carried on that maybe wouldn’t be so evident to the general public through knowing those two people or histories about them.

Doug Gross: That the morality of leadership is probably the most important factor in leadership.

Jeff Bullock: Why is that? I mean, because we are in an environment where exactly amoral. I mean, amorality is kind of winning the day here. So…

Doug Gross: But the morality of leadership is critical because Tom Tauke worked hard, never gave up, outworked everybody else and spent the time and understood the issues. There is a moral basis to him than leading on those issues. Even on those corrupt place like Washington, D.C., where he rose very quickly.

Bob Ray understood that your relationship to the people that you lead is essential. And unless they trust you intrinsically, you can’t lead them.

Jeff Bullock: I think it’s fair to say, an argument to make is that as we’ve said morality isn’t necessarily something that has been the core of this general election campaign. So you know, and some theorist would say that we’re in a kind of a post modern world. So you know, who’s morality? Who’s justice? It’s… it doesn’t really exist anymore.

Doug Gross: It exists every bit as much today as it ever did because the problem we have today is becausee people don’t have a sense of moral leadership. They don’t have consistent followers. Why would you follow someone if you don’t think they have integrity or if they’re not truthful? If they don’t have a good moral sense about where they’re leading you.

I mean, I think people are starved today for a leader like Abraham Lincoln, who led by example and led by the force of his moral statement about the importance of getting rid of things like slavery and keeping in union together. That example is overwhelming to people and kept the place together.

People are starving for that today. And one of the reasons why we’re so divided is a country is we don’t see that sense of moral leadership. And I’m very concerned about where we are on the choices we make this fall. And we’re not on either side, we’re not. Neither one commands a moral presence. And because of that, they’re going to have a very difficult time no matter who wins in leading the country in a positive way.

Jeff Bullock: That’s troubling isn’t it?

Doug Gross: Very troubling. It makes me sad.

Jeff Bullock: So what’s the solution to that?

Doug Gross: I’m still optimistic though.

Jeff Bullock: Why can you be optimistic in this?

Doug Gross: Very optimistic because even in the 1850’s when our country was unraveling, we picked a leader like James Buchanan. He had no sense of leadership. No sense of leadership, whatsoever, and led us into a civil war that was as disastrous as any civil war any nation has ever faced. And yet our country, one, identified a moral leader that grew out of that to help lead us through that. But even after that, then picked a guy like Andrew Johnson who was totally corrupt and incapable of leadership, and yet our country survived and thrived.

Why? Because it isn’t all about government. That isn’t the only leadership that counts. What’s even more importantly are the leadership we show on our own small groups, and our own lives, and our own families. That’s where the Faithful Presence we talked about before. It’s how we individually lead our lives.

I often tell people, young parents, that the most important thing they do with their kids is not what they tell them. It’s what they do because their kids will watch what they do and how they live their lives, lead their lives. And they’ll mimic that in their lives and in their kids’ lives. And that will have huge impact forever.

Jeff Bullock: So what you’re talking about is you’re referencing James Davison Hunter’s book, To Change The World. And he talks about, part of what’s a challenge in leadership today is often when leadership… people talk about leadership, they think of generals and presidents and pro athletes and big names. But Hunter’s argument is the argument you’re making, that leadership happens more organically. That it happens in those spheres of influence closest to us. So if you were, our audience is a large millennial audience and I’ve been immersed in millennials for 20 years as president at the university. I’m very lucky, and I’ve learned a lot from them. And that one of the things I’ve learned is they got a healthy skepticism. But they’ve got also even a more healthy sense of optimism. But it is an optimism that’s tempered by a realistic approach to the world.

So if you’re speaking to millennials and you’re talking about leading from your sphere of influence, what are… you know, and think about your children, what are the three things? If your life were to end today, what are the three things you want your children to know, you want millennials to know, that really make the world go round in a profound way? What are the three, four, five things that can change your world?

Doug Gross: Now that’s a tough question but an important question. I even think about that when I vote now. When you get to be at a certain age, I wouldn’t vote for someone if I can’t look my kid in the eye, or we have five kids, or any of our children in the eye, and explain to them why I did that.

So the first thing is have integrity. And have that integrity, not just with how you live your life but with what you do with your life. It would be morally consistent. That’s number one. And that’s very important.

The second thing is being transparent. Don’t hide things, and I think millennials are particularly sensitive to that because they have very high degree of awareness of people that are phony because I think well those are the mediation and they’ve been raised that way so they could see through the camera, but be transparent. And if you’re transparent and have integrity, then you got to be a good person.

And that would be the third part is do good. When you have an opportunity to do good, do it and don’t care to get credit for it. In fact, avoid credit for it if you can. I have often told them stories about you know the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees is one group does good, the other wants to get credit for good.

If you’re the group that does good, it would pay off and our whole world would be better in the long run.

Jeff Bullock: Ok, so let’s segway this quickly. Ok, millennials and politics. So I mean, you know, I’m not trying to flatter you.

Doug Gross: No, don’t because I’m nervous.

Jeff Bullock: But you are a very very valuable, influential person just in the state of Iowa and Iowa politics. So you know the whole history. So we began by talking about how we’re kind of an amoral sort of general election. We tend to be, at the university, to be a not tender. There’s kind of a natural, organic hopefulness. And part of that is because of just our institutional DNA and because of the make-up of our student body. If you ought to be on our campus, we’d love to have you in our campus.

But we look like a mini-United Nations. We have students from 25 countries, 22 countries and 45 states. And that’s a lot of work because you know there’s a lot of different points of view. You’re looking at millennials. And you don’t want them to be discouraged by what’s happening in the general election. And you know that they are going to be inheriting the manner of leadership over the course of the next 20 and 30 and 40 years. So is there anything else that based upon what you’ve learned, that you’d want millennials to take with them as they begin to inherit that manner of leadership we’ve talked about, integrity, hardwork, transparency, honesty, anything else that you want them to learn.

Doug Gross: Yeah, the secret to the fact that the country will survive and thrive and grow despite the terrible nature of leadership we might in any particular time is because we’re all striving people. Other than the Native Americans none of us we’re really were born here. We all, our ancestors came here looking for something. And that’s what’s always made America unique. That’s what’s always renewed our economy, it’s always renewed our sense of optimism and a commitment to our families. So we cannot, and should not, and will not, if I have anything to do with it become an insular nation, a know-nothing nation.

The fact you got people from 45 states and 22 countries is key to our future, the key to our success. And leaders from any party, any stripe, that say we’re better off if we put a wall around our country are just flat wrong. I think millennials intrinsically know that because they live it. They live it everyday. That’s why they don’t have the hang ups, and discriminate against people based on the color of their skin or their religion or anything of that sort.

I am very hopeful because of the millennials because they don’t have those hang ups. They understand that diversity is the key to success in the future. I, my message to them is stay at it, you’re the key to our success.

Jeff Bullock: I think it wasn’t intended to be that. I think that’s the perfect place to end. And that’s a very, personally, I think it’s a very moving message, and we need to get you to campus to share that.

Doug Gross: I’d be happy to do that. Thanks for all you’ve done.
Jeff Bullock: Thank you.

Photo ofDouglas E. Gross
Douglas E. Gross
Job Title
Attorney at Law
BrownWinick Attorneys at Law
666 Grand Avenue,
Des Moines, Iowa, 50309

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