Originally posted on LinkedIn

When I received my first political appointment in the Reagan Administration at the Department of Education, my immediate boss had a few words of advice for me: “remember it is an honor and a privilege to serve the President in this job” and “Your job does not have to be here in order for the service (student loans) to be provided”. The latter definitely put my cocky 19 year-old ego in place.

The “honor and privilege” mantra was reiterated when I moved over to the White House staff in 1987.   We were all aware that President Reagan viewed himself as a caretaker of the office and a representative of the institution of the Presidency. We knew that we were minor participants in a moment of history. President Reagan gave great thought and care to every public reflection of the Presidency. For example, he would not enter the Oval Office without wearing a tie out of respect for the office or exit Air Force One without saluting the marine on duty, constantly aware of the visual imagery that he projected as the leader of the free world—reflecting charm and the strength of a nation.

The concept of serving as a representative of someone else and their reputation was one with which I was comfortable. My father was a leader in -Virginia political circles. The awareness that every action we took—how we looked, how we dressed, how we communicated—and its reflection on the role he held was constantly on our minds as children and young adults. As I left the Reagan administration to serve as a technical assistant to the man who would become CEO and Chairman of Intel, I knew that not only did the quality of my work reflect on him but that my actions and demeanor would be noted as representative of him, his office and the leading edge ideas he was promoting as he advanced through the ranks of Intel’s leadership. Twenty years later, I would represent my country with the rank of Ambassador and knew that I was a reflection of our country’s relationship with an ally and more importantly our President’s partnership with another world leader, which resulted in security, jobs and economic investment in the US.

In my current position and hopefully having reached a level of political maturity in Washington, I feel the weight of the mantle daily. As President of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, I represent the interest of 16 CEOs who are facing an ever-changing marketplace driven by shifting consumer demand and unprecedented government pressure around the world. Diplomatic skills combined with a concentration on results complemented by determination and tenacity are critical attributes in this environment. My team focuses on collaboration and demonstrates a willingness to subjugate our own egos in order to serve our member companies. They know our job is to support those who pay us. When we face critical budget decisions we discuss that it’s not our money it’s the companies’ money.   Political battles are not about us, our egos or our professional goals.

As Washington devolves into one long shouting match, overshadowed by big egos, they might want to think back to our 40th President and ask, “What would Reagan do?” The answer is to check egos at the door and remember that we are custodians acting on behalf of the institutions, the moms and dads and the constituents we represent. We are only temporary players in the long game.

We have a family painting from the early 1900’s in reaction to bitter industrialist political battles in the Midwest. The painting shows a wizard and a man peering at the writing of an ancient tome. Underneath are the words: “This” said the Ancient, “is the most important precept of them all”, bending forward the successful man read, “Don’t take yourself too damned seriously.” This is great advice for today’s political players.