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Three leadership skills businesses can learn from the political campaign

Posted by Chad O'Connor  November 6, 2012 11:00 AM

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It has been a long election season for U.S. citizens, the press, pollsters and presidential candidates alike. But with Election Day upon us, there are lessons to be learned about how to sway people, inspire them and lead change, not just for voters and those seeking office, but for business executives, too. Here are some campaign-inspired dos and don'ts for leaders in the corporate world:

1. Don't Be Political, But Do Know What People Care About. Like the candidates, leaders need to know the hot-button issues that people care the most about. What are the people in your company most anxious about, and what do they need direction on? Provide that direction, get those resources, but avoid posturing and manipulation -- it causes trouble and mistrust. There will be politics, but, as John Bell, former CEO of Jacobs Suchard said, "Deal with politics, but don’t be political."

2. Don't Pander, Be Authentic. Leaders don't have to kiss babies to show that they can connect with regular people, but they do need to use emotional intelligence. It's important to be likable, to actually listen to employees, not just act as though you are, and to show that you care. That's how good leaders garner followers.

3. Don't Peddle Your Influence, Align Your Interests. Politics is often about trading on quid pro-quo relationships -- and using one's "influence" to get votes. In business, leaders must "lead with influence," which should not defined as "influence peddling," but as "the ability to generate results collaboratively, in a variety of contexts, without direct or positional authority." Leaders must understand the importance of authentic relationships and actively seek to align interests with people at all levels inside and outside the organization around shared goals. If they can't do that, they will go nowhere.

These skills are important to both win the White House and be successful throughout the presidential term, but they are also imperative to running a successful business of any size. It's a matter of time before we learn which candidate meets the above criteria in the eyes of the prospective constituents, but for business leaders, there is no better time than the present to evaluate the role you play in your company's success.

Maggie Walsh is vice president of leadership development at Forum, a Boston-based premier learning organization.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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