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Election Season

October 28, 2016

How candidates can help us teach ourselves by Dave LaRue

I just finished coaching a roomful of entrepreneurs representing enterprises in five different countries and responsible for the leadership of at least 3000 direct employees. Our personal experiences make entrepreneurs and business leaders think differently about leadership at a grander scale, and this is especially true during election season. 

No matter where your political loyalties lie, you’ve no doubt had the experience of being in disbelief about a promise made by a candidate on the campaign trail. Often a candidate takes a position more for the benefit of appealing to a section of voters than sincerely speaking their mind. Policies are sometimes suggested that have no feasible way of being accomplished. Otto Von Bismarck called politics “the art of the possible,” but in speeches meant to excite us, serious and complex issues are declared solved with simplistically insufficient solutions.  

Those of us who run businesses know what it is to speak to others and ask for their support. We know what it is to have to make an impact on different groups of people with different interests and backgrounds. We know the pressure of having to make, and deliver on, commitments. 

Every four years, we have a chance to hear political speeches and sound bites and listen to leaders from the standpoint of audience member again. I like to look at these as a source of life lessons—to see how people react to a candidate’s words and actions. Then I try to decide the best direction to take. 

Every time a candidate says something disingenuous, we are offended and it helps us avoid these habits in our speech and rhetoric. Every time we see an ad or hear a sound bite that attacks, rather than explains or honestly persuades, we recommit to being clear, transparent communicators. Overall, we are reminded to use the attention of our teams to not only inspire their efforts and ingenuity, but to remind them that they’re working for a great company with integrity and with a set of values that are congruent to theirs.

As leaders and managers of organizations, we get to share the hallways with our teams, which is so important: we don’t have room to maneuver around a straight answer. We can see in the eyes of our “constituents” if we’re doing them proud or if we’re disappointing them. It’s a tighter feedback loop than a national election.

By looking at, and dreaming about, our bigger futures and having great clarity on where we want to go, we should appreciate and maximize the comparative simplicity of the decision making processes in our purview and make the most out of knowing the relatively immediate impact of our words and deeds. 

For all the talk we hear about frustration with our political system, there’s one thing we all can do without asking permission or gaining popular support, and that’s to act the way we believe is right when we see and hear things we disagree with or believe are wrong. 

When we complain or detail the problems we see, we may get supportive conversation from those who agree with us, but when it ends with just talk, we will still feel frustrated. When we act in accord with our highest values, we get results for everyone to see, and help prove the merit of our opinions and beliefs.

By working congruently in our areas of genius, we improve the quality of political discourse and put our shoulder to the wheel to make the world a better place according to what we believe is right, and it encourages us to accomplish what is realistic and possible, rather than to support—with our worries and our words—the dreamlike ideologies we are so often asked to believe in nowadays.

As a business leader and an entrepreneurial coach, one of my core beliefs is this: the best investment we can make is in ourselves! So, always take the time to not only learn from your own positive and negative experiences, but also the ones we get to witness with our chosen politician. And, in the political season, there is an abundance of both.