By Jeremy Thorn
What has especially interested me about this General Election has not been the gripping uncertainty of the results right up to polling day, which has left many of us in heightened states of enthusiastic support, profound anxiety or aching boredom - and in my own case, all three. Nor has it been the spectacle of some very bright people who have been seeking our precious votes that has particularly captured my attention.
Rather, I have been really fascinated by the lessons we might all learn at work, from watching and listening to politicians as they have gone about their task in seeking our support. Here are seven such lessons, all inter-linked:
1. Trust and Authenticity
As I go around the country, speaking to ordinary people (to coin a popular phrase), I have been struck by how little trust there is; not just in our politicians, which may be fully understandable given the hugely damaging expenses scandal, but in many of the political parties themselves. Trust is a non-negotiable commodity. It is built on the authenticity, credibility and consistency of our arguments, values and actions. As managers and leaders in any walk of life, we forget that at our peril.
2. Answer the Question!
If you have failed to be convinced by any particular Party’s proposition and carefully-crafted arguments over the last few weeks, it may be that your hard-wired allegiances may never be overturned. (That’s a helpful thought for any Change-Management programme by the way: you can’t argue with an emotion! A subject worth exploring on another occasion?)
But is it also possible that these arguments just didn’t address your issues? The lesson for me is that in any walk of life, unanswered questions still remain just that: unanswered. Far better they be addressed, however unpopular the answer, than ignored?
3. You can’t please everyone, all the time
I think this is a particularly important lesson to for us all to learn. In the desperate search for votes at this election, perhaps it is not surprising that the larger Parties have tried to appeal to as many different sections of the electorate as possible? In our own work lives, being ‘everyone’s friend’ is a deeply flawed strategy. The danger is that we then satisfy no-one. My own lesson from this is: don’t expect to please everyone. Almost certainly, you can’t.
4. Don’t Fudge the Facts
I must admit this. The more I know, the less I find I really know. I also find it equally true that the less we know, the less we are aware of what we don’t know. As Donald Rumsfeld put it, less than clearly: there are ‘unknown unknowns’. He also added: "I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started." (Well, I think we know what he meant!)
But how many ‘facts’ have we been given in the last few weeks that proved not to be? As with ‘Answer the Question’ above, electors don’t take warmly to instant ‘facts’ or policies that go against others’ better knowledge or experience. Nor do colleagues.
5. The Message, or the Medium?
As we all know, managing the medium for our key communications is vital, as the televised three-way Leader-debates demonstrated — and generally rather well, you might think? But managing the message is equally critical. A slick presentation counts for little if the message is weak, fuzzy or unconvincing. No doubt you will have your own views on which party leaders have done this particularly well or badly during this election.
Nevertheless, whatever our own jobs, managing both the medium and the message is essential for all of us.
Rudi Giuliani, former Mayor of New York, is frequently reported as saying that: “Before you can be a leader, you need to know who you are and what you stand for”. Ain’t that the truth? If you have voted for a party in our elections where that leader has demonstrated that truth to your satisfaction, perhaps that is why you voted for that party? (Or put another way, perhaps you didn’t vote for another party, because this wasn’t demonstrated?)
If this quality helped you to decide which candidate should have your vote, how much more might this apply to our own leaders, colleagues and followers at work?
7. Building a Winning Team
Of course, a General Election is not just about voting for a Prime Minister, but for a Government. A strong leader with a weak team is as unlikely to be any more effective than a strong team with a weak leader. (We do seem to have seen very little of any party’s team at the forefront of this election. I do wonder why.) In your own work, do you have both a strong leader and a strong team? Improving both ‘only’ needs strategic vision, shared values, clear plans and indomitable purpose.
May we hope our incoming Government shares the same thoughts!
Watch a video of the Academy for Chief Executives Speaker Showcase at The Grand Connaught Rooms in 2009, where speakers talked about new ideas.
Jeremy Thorn is a widely experienced Director of several international high-growth companies, a senior executive coach, workshop facilitator and author of several prize-winning management books. He has a special interest in developing successful organisations and great managers — and no firm political allegiances. You can contact him at Jeremy@JeremyThorn.co.uk — or see his website www.JeremyThorn.co.uk
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