NOTIONS Learning to lead by walking away from the game: Bruce Hetrick

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There’s supposed to be an 800-word column in this space. We face important issues, after all, and you look to the author to help mold your opinion, move you to tears or, more likely, make you mad as hell. (Besides, you paid good money for this newspaper and you’re entitled to some valuable fodder for your next water cooler conversation or, at minimum, your recycling bin.)

But your favorite columnist, whose job is to make connections between seemingly disparate notions, has learned something from the Indiana General Assembly and a Matthew Broderick movie made two decades ago.

From last year’s General Assembly, the columnist learned what leaders should do if they can’t get their pet issue on the table: They should take their ball and go home.

Indeed, in 2004, when House Republicans couldn’t get majority Democrats to debate a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, they walked out, killing scores of bills on lots of important issues.

From this year’s General Assembly, the columnist has learned what leaders should do if they resent the fact that someone else’s pet issue is on the table: They should take their ball and go home.

Indeed, at the 2005 legislative session’s recent halfway point, when House Democrats didn’t like the now-Republican majority’s bill that would establish a state inspector general and another that would require photo identification at polling places, they walked out, killing scores of bills on lots of important issues.

Having learned these valuable leadership lessons, the columnist is taking his pen and going home.

His pet issues: If the Legislature funded by his tax dollars won’t debate a life- and money-saving bill making Indiana the next U.S. state to ban workplace smoking; and if the Legislature insists on making the columnist and his fellow Marion County residents underwrite all the capital city assets enjoyed by folks from throughout the region, state and nation, then the columnist refuses…

In the 1983 film “War Games,” Matthew Broderick plays a teenage hacker who taps into the mainframe computer at North American Aerospace Defense Command headquarters. This is the computer that controls the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal. When the computer asks the kid, “Would you like to play a game?” he says yes, putting the world on the brink of war.

In the end, the hacker saves the day by forcing the machine into a no-win situation involving tic-tac-toe. Every game ends in a draw. The computer then applies this lesson to nuclear war scenarios.

In the nick of time, the computer ends the simulation, shuts down the real-life missile launchers and proclaims, in a warped leadership lesson worthy of the Hoosier Legislature:

“Strange game: the only way to win is not to play.”

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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