Final Letter from Boston


They call it, “the freedom trail.” The small case letters for a big case concept. Small case letters that seems to whisper a solemn “small d” democracy.

Everybody in Boston knows what it is.

Most school kids have done class trips to one or more of the places along “the freedom trail.” The bartender at J.J. Foley’s in Boston’s South End rolls his eyes when I mention it to him, remembering his own class project in grade school.

For my part, I last visited “the freedom trail” when I was 14 years old. The year was 1976. Bicentennial of the birth of our One Nation, Under God. My parents loaded us into the green, wood-paneled, Ford family station wagon. We were going to New England to visit Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, the Old North Church. (“…Do not make me pull this car over!!!”)

I return to these places now — with my youngest son, Jack. He, too, is now fourteen.

Jack and Governor Martin O’Malley at Bunker Hill

We visit Bunker Hill where so many Patriots fought and died facing, what seemed to others, overwhelming odds. We climb all 294 stairs of the monument — more easily done by 14 year olds than 54 year olds…

We visit the Old North Church.

In the car (just like my own parents), I force my son to read every stanza of Longfellow’s poem, “The Mid-Night Ride of Paul Revere.” Reluctantly, he obeys; shifting to a comic voice around stanza four. (I vaguely recall doing the same thing years ago when reading from a dog-eared family poetry book rather than a battered iPhone.)

Like Paul Revere, we ride north. Again, it is April.

Jack at thirty paces on Lexington Battle Green

We walk the battle green at Lexington; face each other at 30 paces. Then up to Concord where we read the familiar words penned for the centennial by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Here by the bridge that arched the flood,

To April’s breeze their flag unfurled,

Here, once, the embattled farmers stood,

And fired the shot heard ‘round the world.”

A Higher Enlightenment

All semester I have had the honor of teaching at Boston College Law School. The Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy has been my gracious and kind host. The aspiring young American lawyers whom I’ve had the honor to teach, have also taught me.

They have caused me to re-think. To renew. To remember.

The title of the course is, “Performance Management and Leadership in the Information Age.” So much information. So much opportunity. Such a need for leadership. This generation of Americans has its work cut out for them.

We look at case studies in getting things done — reducing crime, building public trust for public safety, restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, taking action to reverse climate change, healthcare reform. This is not a paint by numbers exercise, or a paint by numbers course. There is an alchemy required — especially in the Information Age — for maintaining the precious consensus necessary to get difficult things done.

Good Mayors and good County Executives in America seem to have figured it out before our Governors or Presidents have.

Governing Ourselves

What is the formula in the Information Age?

It is a radical commitment to openness and transparency demonstrated every day through actions not words. The primacy of effective collaboration rather than mere command and control. Feedback loops and a relentless cadence of accountability paired with short, regular meetings around open data — the latest emerging truth. The ability to model “belief space” with probabilistic certainty. And an eco-systemic approach to understanding the array of actions which impact the common good we share.

I used to think effective self-governance was 10% policy and 90% follow-through. I was way off. This semester I learned for the first time — or perhaps, remembered for the first time — that, today, governing is 10% policy, 40% follow-through, and 50% leadership.


One of the quirky benefits of serving as a Governor is that at least once a month a new book on “Leadership” lands on your desk, a complimentary copy sent by a publisher, author, or promoter.

Most of them are crap.

The one I teach from is not. It is the “Eight Driver’s of Leadership” by David Traversi. It is practical, real, and good. A description which also applies to the young Americans in my class at Boston College Law.

What are those “eight drivers”?

Presence, Openness, Clarity, Personal Responsibility, Intention, Creativity, Intuition, Connected Communications.

Knowing what those qualities are is one thing. Finding them within yourself — and others — is another.

The only other book I teach from is a book of poetry — with a forward by my friend, Parker Palmer. It is called, “Leading With Fire.”

For the final class, each student is randomly assigned one of the eight drivers of leadership. Then they are asked to find one poem in “Leading With Fire” that speaks clearly and deeply to the quality of leadership they were assigned. Each student reads their choice aloud — to the whole class — one by one; and then they explain why they chose it. Hafiz, Rielke, Mary Oliver, Daniel Whyte, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Martin Luther King.

Join, or Die is a political cartoon urging the critical need for American unity, drawn by Benjamin Franklin and first published in his Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754


In a brilliantly insightful address to U.S. Army cadets at West Point in 2009, Prof. William Deresiewicz said on the subject of “Solitude and Leadership” —

“the great books, the ones you find on a syllabus, the ones people have continued to read, don’t reflect the conventional wisdom of their day. They say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought. They were revolutionary in their own time, and they are still revolutionary today. And when I say “revolutionary,” I am deliberately evoking the American Revolution, because it was a result of precisely this kind of independent thinking.
Without solitude — the solitude of Adams and Jefferson and Hamilton and Madison and Thomas Paine — there would be no America.”
Boston College campus


In one of the most heartening “reaction papers” I received this entire semester, a young patriotic American Muslim student in my class wrote:

“…because of this class, I choose not to view the actions of our current politics through a lens of despair. Rather I see incredible opportunities to speak a higher enlightenment for my generation — and generations to come.”

And so it is.

The siege of Boston has been lifted once again. Expectations become behavior. And the Revolution lives.

“Come my friends, tis not too late to seek a newer world.”


Martin O’Malley is the Jerome Lyle Rappaport Visiting Professor at Boston College Law School for the spring 2017 semester. He is teaching a class on Leadership and Data Driven Government, while also participating in several panel discussions as part of the Rappaport Distinguished Public Policy Series. Every Monday he is publishing his thoughts in a series titled, “Letters from Boston.”