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Business Lessons Learned from Presidential Politics

The most influential CEO in the world (George W. Bush) faces mandatory retirement in 2008 and already there are 20 men and women very publicly vying for his job. These presidential wannabes talk about how, if chosen, they will do things differently; they also take every opportunity to illustrate why voting for any of the other candidates would be disastrous.

While the unceasing political maneuvering and posturing can become tiresome, if we pay attention, we can learn some valuable business lessons from all the politicking:

Build Enthusiasm Early
In politics the new campaign cycle begins the day after the election (sometimes sooner). It can make for an incredibly long campaign, but it certainly builds momentum. Some of it may be misguided, but you can't deny the enthusiasm already evident for the campaign, especially among those directly involved. Think about what you can do to build enthusiasm for a pending change in your organization. The key to any organizational change—whether it’s a new CEO or new rules about lunchtime phone coverage—is helping people understand why the change should matter to them (the “what’s in it for me?” factor). Make it personal and your employees will commit to making the change work.

Embrace Technology and Innovation
Today’s candidates embrace technology and make sure to tap into new forms of communication—YouTube, podcasts, blogs, and so on. They take creative risks and connect with a new generation of voters who don't remember life before the Internet. What are you doing to bring Web 2.0 to your company? Does your leadership team have a blog? Do you encourage and reward creative achievement? Whether it's internal or external communications, use the technology and the resources you have and try something new. Remember, the status quo requires no leadership.

Cultivate a Farm Team
In politics, here's always someone waiting in the wings. But often, the general public isn’t aware of the behind the scenes cultivation of future leaders. In business, effective leadership development depends upon having a viable, clear succession plan in place. Make it a priority to prepare for the company's future long-term success by continuously developing potential leaders.

Communicate the Succession Plan
Having an effective political farm system in place isn’t enough; you have to carry on an ongoing dialogue with the people in the management development pipeline. Talk to the candidates about who has the most political strength right now, who is best prepared for the job, and who should win the election. Communicate regularly about their goals and development needs and how they fit in with the organization's goals. Each person in your organization—or at the very least every senior and middle manager—should formulate a plan for what his or her next position will be. Communicating the organizational plan and connecting it to individual goals allows people to understand how they fit into the big picture, ensuring that the next generation of senior executives have everything they need to succeed.

Focus Competition on the Big Picture
The political in-fighting is really gearing up right now, and it’s only going to get worse when the primary season gets into full swing. While it's important for voters to hear the differences in each of the candidates, all the time spent bashing the people within the party detracts from the overall goal of bringing the candidate's party into office. It's similar to when the sales people can't get along with the marketing people or the customer service reps think the shipping department people can't find their way home. Competition is healthy when it's focused on achieving overall organizational or departmental goals. Imagine the tremendous bottom-line results if everyone works together to achieve organizational goals instead of vying for individual or departmental glory.

As you watch and read the news over the next year, really pay attention to the political process. Think about the business principles you can emulate—or avoid—for the benefit of yourself and your organization. Presidential politics and business certainly differ from one another, but their goals are the same: success in relation to both the bottom line and the common good.