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Lessons from the Presidential Election

From my November Kitsap Business Journal column…

Fear not. This is not a political op-ed you are about to read. You’ve probably had enough of that by now!

As this column hits your mailbox, we are within days of finishing the 2012 election that started three years ago. If you’re like me you’ve cast your ballot and can’t wait for the political pugilism to end. However, there are still lessons to be learned from it, and we would be negligent if we didn’t take a little time to explore them.

First, let’s define what these “lessons” are, and what they are not. This has nothing to do with how either presidential candidate might or might not make a good leader. I fear we as a country are now better at attracting candidates (from both parties) with skills to campaign, rather than skills in governing or leading. You as a business leader need to be able to do both. That is, send a message, build a brand, create evangelists, and be a leader. Your “electorate” votes with their feet and their money, making it crucial to you to be good at both. The lessons in this column are not about political parties or platforms. Rather, they are about being a great business leader.

Lesson #1 – The eyes have it

During the presidential debates, much of the punditocracy gave passing or failing grades to candidates based on what they saw, not necessarily what they heard. In the first debate, President Obama was roundly criticized for looking flat, uninspired, and tired. Video of him when he wasn’t speaking caught him looking disinterested. Even his most ardent followers acknowledged this.

As a leader, you need to understand that all eyes are on you constantly. This may mean everything from walking down the office hallway, sitting in a prospect’s waiting area, or listening to someone else speaking at a company meeting. People will watch for your reactions, your body language, and your table manners during lunch. What are you telling them?

You need to pretend there is a camera on you. As a leader, you will be viewed as a role model. You will be judged on whether you can earn the right to be a trusted advisor. Body language accounts for 55 percent of communication. Don’t get caught with spinach in your teeth!

Lesson #2 – Sound bytes

Boy, did we get a few sound bytes this election season! Remember these — “47 percent,” “You didn’t build it,” and “Binders of women?” While many of the sound bytes end up being used against them, presidential candidates understand that we as an audience are more apt to remember small, bite-size portions of powerful messages.

As a leader, you need to speak in sound bytes. That means being proficient in language. Improve your vocabulary, learn to speak pithily, and say things that are powerful and will linger. If you ramble and speak disjointedly, then your message is likely to get lost. Be brief, be exact, be powerful, and then shut up.

Lesson #3 – Don’t rip your competition

It never ceased to amaze me that when given the opportunity to talk about themselves and what value they bring, both candidates eschewed the opportunity and instead went about telling us what was wrong with their opponent. The campaign trail, the debates, and especially the commercials focused on the negatives of the other guy, and only countered that they would be just the opposite.

Don’t get caught in this trap. You all have competition. You need to focus your language and actions on how you improve the condition of your clients, not what the other guy or gal can’t do well. I spent many years in the insurance industry and know that the practice exists. It may not be as egregious as a national political campaign, but it is there. My guess is that this subtle competitive “spirit” exists in all industries. In the end, you are there to bring value to your client. The focus should be on that and not your “opponent.”

Lesson #4 – Keep telling your story

The presidential candidates are experienced and skilled in getting their story out to the country. They work for consistency, repetition, and gravity. If they find something, they will seize on it and never let it go (see Big Bird). They understand the simple business rule that a prospect needs to hear or see you countless times before they begin to trust and buy.

You have a story to tell. It might be the mission and values of your company to your employees. It might be the enormous value that you provide your clients to improve their business and lives. Whatever it is, you need to be consistent in that message and walk the talk. You need to repeat it early and often so it will sink in. People have shorter memories than ever before due to our technology-driven world. Don’t ever stop delivering your story.

Bottom line — The presidential election will end soon, but your business pursuits are ongoing. Take away some of the lessons, both good and bad, from the people vying for the highest-ranking job in the country, and apply them to your business. If you do, I am confident you will get the votes you need for success.

Dan Weedin is a Poulsbo-based management consultant, speaker, and mentor. He leads an executive peer-to-peer group in Kitsap County where he helps executives improve personally, professionally, and organizationally by enhancing leadership skills. He is one of only 35 consultants in the world to be accredited as an Alan Weiss Master Mentor. You can reach Dan at 360-697-1058; e-mail at dan@danweedin.com or visit his web site at www.DanWeedin.com.

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