There is more to sustaining the support of the voting electorate than 'bagging bin Laden' or 'shirt-fronting Putin'. Leadership is mercurial stuff and politicians have incredibly difficult jobs living their lives in a fish bowl with rock throwers and trolls everywhere. Worse than this, they face a mountain to climb every day concerning trust. People just don't believe them because of the endless spin, broken promises, reannouncing old policies, and the disingenuous way in which they drive agendas (smiling and positive but with mud all over your hands).
President Obama is a master orator and his team leveraged social media like never before in creating real cut-through and momentum to rally those who were traditionally disengaged. But even if the American political system allowed for more than two terms, Obama would have almost no chance of securing a third. This is because he has a massive credibility problem - trust is lost when anyone fails to deliver or is perceived to be playing the public for fools.
In Australia, we have a new government in place following the most dysfunctional period of political rule in the country's history. In 2007, Kevin Rudd won office but before his first term was over, his own party knifed him and installed his deputy, Julia Gillard. But Rudd remained in the background stirring the pot until he eventually had his day of revenge and engineered another 'night of the long knives' to overthrow a sitting Prime Minister for the second term in a row. Gillard was jettisoned and Rudd was resurrected in a desperate act by the party to limit losses. Incompetence, popularism and cannibalization were the hallmarks of this era in Australian Politics. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd period was one where Australia went from having a massive surplus and huge 'future fund' war-chest to unprecedented levels of debt and out of control deficits.
Following the dysfunctional incumbent's implosion, the new government in Australia has been in power for less than a year and the honeymoon period is over. Their economic reforms are being blocked because they don't have the numbers in the upper house (senate). They have had success with stopping the tragic loss of life (>1,200 people) from people smugglers trafficking in 'boat people' but they've lost their way with how they're communicating economic reform and are hoping that the Christmas break will help them get 'back on message'.
Politicians can learn much from professional selling and here are some areas for them to consider:
- Focus on the customer [citizens] rather than the competition [political opponents]. It may be entertaining but attacking the other side is a poor strategy. If you argue with an idiot, observers find it difficult to distinguish between the combatants. Listen to understand rather than for your chance to speak. Listening with empathy is the most powerful form of influence. Make it all about understanding and serving your customers [citizens].
- Set a vision and agenda for an achievable future while solving problems and managing risk. Make the vision inspiring, and backed-up by competent execution. Avoid using fear as a weapon or to motivate because it loses its effectiveness very quickly.
- Create emotional connection to every point you make. Rather than lead with information and logic, recognize that people buy emotionally and then rationalize with data. Lead with 'why' rather than with 'what' or 'how'.
- Positively differentiate with your values and by being transparent and straight-forward. Serve with purpose and make sure you are a 'true believer'. If you have to change a policy or fail on a commitment, simply explain why, say sorry and be clear about what you will do next.
- Deliver on promises with competence in execution. Strategy without good execution is fantasy. Policy without good execution is a one-term government. Be a person of integrity in all you do but if you cannot implement for whatever reason, then front-up and call it for what it is. Then you can move on.
- Don't try to sell to those who will not buy. Focus efforts on those who can be swayed. Be gracious and polite to those who are committed to the competition but don't waste time there as it annoys them and frustrates you.
My vision and mission in what I do is to help selling be a profession of integrity and value; and I hope it comes through in my posts. Politics is a tough game with compromise being a constant reality, but it need not be a profession lacking integrity. We must all clearly define what we stand for and surround ourselves with positive people, each with a strong moral compass.
Call me crazy but imagine a world where we had 4 year fixed terms and all sides had to publish their 'prospectus' (vision, mission, values and specific policies, commitments and decision frameworks) 90 days before an election. Then after 3 years in power, an accounting firm conducts an audit and publishes the results against the prospectus - a balanced scorecard if you will across all the critical areas. Imagine the change this system could bring if politicians and union leaders were also subject to the same laws governing company directors; where fraud, corruption and misrepresentation resulted in going to jail.
Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.
Main image photo by Flickr: Benson Kuo
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