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What I Wish I Knew Then: Eric Dezenhall

Hill Navigator doesn’t claim to know all the answers. I read each and every question, and every attempt is made to provide a framework for solving work-related problems, especially those pertaining to Capitol Hill staff.

But sometimes the best resource is outside counsel.

This is why Hill Navigator is turning to some of the bright and successful leaders in D.C. to find out what advice they wish they had known when starting out and what tips have served them well over the years. I’ll be sharing these tips periodically here on the Hill Navigator blog.

This week, Eric Dezenhall, CEO of Dezenhall Resources, weighs in.

Q. What was one of your earliest work experiences?

A. Aide in Reagan White House Office of Communications, early 1980s

Q. Best advice you received?

A. The legendary Mike Deaver was the architect of President Reagan’s communications. One time we were playing tennis, which is how Mike blew off steam, and discussing the state of the news media. Mike said it wasn’t worth trying to educate people that hated you. He accepted the media’s dislike of Reagan as an unassailable fact, but rejected the idea that they had to be the filter through which Reagan communicated, so he emphasized vehicles to put Reagan, unfiltered, before the public. Mike added that despite what he was saying about media bias, you should never acknowledge it because if you do, you look nuts (like Nixon).

Q. “What I didn’t know then but I do know now ________?”

A. There are no geniuses. Nobody has secret knowledge or special connections that can make magic happen. Nobody is “the man” because there is no “man.” In Washington, there are only people adept in tying spectacular outcomes to their own actions, but this town runs on the illusion that it’s run by wizards with mystical juju.

Q. What pays off in the long run?

A. Choose a mentor, but never let him or her know they’re your mentor. Don’t be a pain in the ass and try to formalize the mentor relationship by burdening that person with a job they don’t want. Study that person, learn from that person, expand on their philosophy, but shut up about it. I didn’t tell Mike Deaver he was my mentor until I hit middle age. He told me he had no idea, and sent me a great note after he read one of my books. I had never been entirely sure before that he even knew who I was.

Q. Fill the blanks in this sentence: Don’t waste your energy: trying to enthrall your boss with your brilliance (he or she doesn’t have the time to watch you perform like you’re on “American Idol”) but do put the extra effort into: quietly making your boss’s life easier by removing burdens from his or her path. The latter is the path to indispensability.

Know someone with wisdom to spare? Email with your recommendation.

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