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Entries in Politics and Business (3)


Business Lessons from 2012 Presidential Primaries

Is Mitt Romney in Trouble?

I don’t know if you know, but I don’t watch much TV. I especially shun all forms of live news, because I don’t want to get drawn into those infinite news cycles with their never-ending stories.

I love presidential politics, however. That’s why this past weekend I stuck my head out of my no-news cocoon just long enough to steal a glance at the political scene.

There are many parallels between presidential elections and business. (There are differences too, but that’s a topic for another day.) I first wrote about this in early 2008, during the democratic presidential primaries and again after the election in late 2008.

I want to be ahead of the curve this time and put those lessons to test. After all, what good is a theory if does not help forecast the future?

My initial read is that Mitt Romney’s campaign may be in serious trouble for these three reasons: 1) he has a weak message, 2) his delivery of that message is inauthentic and uninspiring and 3) two of his opponents have much stronger messages and can deliver them with more passion and conviction.

1) Weak message

You may remember that there are three ingredients - 3 M’s - that a presidential election, and a business, must have in place for it to be successful. These three ingredients are 1) Message, 2) Man/Woman Power, and 3) Money.

The most important of the three is Message. In other words, if the message is strong, it will attract people and money. But a weak message cannot be overcome by large amounts of money or the people behind the campaign.

A good message has three components: 1) What you would get if I was elected 2) Why you should believe that I can deliver that promise, and 3) Why I am the best option to deliver that promise over my competitors.  

The business corollary is: 1) What you would get if you bought our products or services, 2) Why you should believe that my business and I can deliver on the promise and 3) Why my business and I are the best option for you to have the above things delivered.

The stronger, more specific and more detailed the answers, the stronger the overall message. The better the narrative, the story and the personification of the message by the person delivering it, the more logical and emotional connection it creates with people.

Mr. Romney’s message is weak on the first component and questionable on the second one. It was quite strong on the third component until last weekend, when Rick Perry entered the race.

2) Inauthentic, uninspiring personification of the message

The messenger is at least as important as the message, perhaps more. The messenger, whether it is the presidential candidate, the business owner or a sales person working for a business, must personify the message, and connect through the message with the hearts and minds of people, not just relay the message handed down to her.

When a message is not true to the messenger, people see through it and we are perceived as inauthentic and insincere, even phony.

Mr. Romney looks and feels like a slick salesperson who will say what you want to hear to get the sale. He comes across as inauthentic even though we know that he has most of the right credentials for the job.

3) Opponents with authentic messages and inspiring delivery

Politics, as business, is a competitive game. To win, you don’t have to be perfect, just better than the competition. As long as the competition is weak and you are strong, you are assured a victory. But when you have a competition that is stronger, you have to work harder.

Michele Bachmann, while regarded by pundits as not having a broad-based appeal, has one thing that Mr. Romney does not have, and will probably never have, an authentic message that is true to her convictions and resonates with a strong base of supporters, however small in numbers.

Rick Perry has an authentic message, an engaging, passionate delivery that comes from his deep conviction to his message and a resume that backs up the primary claim of his message: job creation.

Lessons from the past

Mr. Romney’s campaign reminds me of Hillary Clinton’s in the summer of 2007. She, like Mr. Romney, had people and money in place but lacked the most crucial thing: an authentic message that deeply resonates and causes a movement around the candidate.

What to do?

Can Mitt Romney fix his message? Certainly, if he chose to buckle down and go through some intense, honest self-analysis, first by himself and then with his advisors.

Is he likely to do it? No. Why? Because it’s not in his nature. In other words, self-analysis does not come to him very naturally. If it was his nature, he would have done it by now. If he did not do in the last four years, when the pressure was off, he is unlikely to do it now when the pressure is on and getting more intense by the minute. I don’t see how his campaign people would let him ease off his busy schedule and allow him to lock himself up in a room for some hours every day so that he can truly figure out what he is all about. More importantly, I don’t see how he will allow himself to do it, simply because that’s not something that he would rather do if he had a choice.

What about Barack Obama?

While we are on the subject, where does Barack Obama fit into all this? Well, he has the same problem that Mitt Romney has and Hillary Clinton had in 2007: A lot of money, a great team, but a weak message.

What I find interesting is that what was Mr. Obama’s biggest strength in 2007 and 2008 is now his biggest weakness. In 2008, his message resonated with hundreds of millions of people and caused a movement around him that ultimately put him in the White House. This time around, a consistent message has been almost non-existent from the Obama Campaign.

If there was one thing that he can do for his reelection campaign right now, it would be to buckle down and hone his message.

Would he do it? I think that Mr. Obama is more likely to do it than Mr. Romney. Why? Again, because self-analysis comes to him naturally. In fact, being contemplative is probably one of his very basic needs. He may have even carved out enough mental space to allow him the opportunity to reflect, even in midst of his grueling schedule as the president. Also, the fact that he did it so effectively in the last election should give him plenty of confidence that that’s where he needs to focus his attention.

Here is some unabashed, and unsolicited, advise for Mr. Obama’s campaign.

To have an effective message, Mr. Obama needs to look for one thing that American people care about the most and make it a corner-stone of his campaign. A good bet is the economy. Then he needs to paint a clear picture of what he expects things to look like in 5 years in that area and what it will mean to Americans. Then he needs to lay out specific steps that his administration has already taken in the direction of that vision and those that they will continue to take if he is reelected. In other words, he needs to layout a logical, step-by-step path to recovery that would have been followed by his administration all along and will continue to follow after the reelection.

He also needs to emphatically and unequivocally point out all the mistakes that he thinks he has made, which will allow him to also lay blame on others where appropriate and claim credit for the things that his administration did get right. In other words, he needs to be ruthlessly honest, authentic and direct. Lastly, he needs to lay out a case for why he believes that reelecting him, and not his opponent, is the right choice for the American people.

Would it guarantee his victory? No. Could it generate a new sense of enthusiasm around him? If done right, yes. One thing is certain though, without a strong message, Mr. Obama will have to rely on a weak opponent, and that’s not a good place for him to be right now.

What about you?

Whether you are a business owner, a business leader, a worker-bee in the corporate world, a social organizer or a householder, you have a personal brand. A question you might want to ask yourself is: How do people perceive me?

  • Are you perceived as an authentic human being or a slick salesman?
  • Are people engaging with you in meaningful conversations or are they avoiding you?
  • Is there a passionate movement around you, however small, of excited well-wishers, including clients and prospects or are you surrounded by people who are indifferent to you and your message?

I have written quite a bit about the process of creating an authentic message for you and your business, products or services. Read more here: Want to Jump Start Your Sales? STOP Marketing!

Need help? At Awayre, LLC, we help businesses carve out an authentic message based on their unique strengths and weaknesses, a message that resonates in the marketplace and helps them create an engaged community of people who are eager to do business with them. For more, information contact me at bhavesh@awayre.com.


Business Lessons from Presidential Elections

This is a follow-on article to the another article I had written soon after the Democratic Primaries ended in April of 2008. The article was titled, “Business Lessons from the Presidential Primaries.”

Amazinlgy enough, all the lessons from the Primaries still apply in the Presidential election, even more so in some cases. I don’t want to repeat them, here. But it’s worth a second read. Just click here to read that article before your read this one.

Here are 9 more lessons, not in any particular order.

Lesson #1: Stay above the fray. Don’t take it in the gut

It’s a cruel world out there. In business, just like in politics, you can be accused of being too black or too white. Too pretty or too ugly. Too tall or too short. People may not like the way you walk around or sit down. Some will have a problem with scars on your face or your limbs being too awakward. We are a bored buch of people looking for entertainment in everything. And business and politics are no exception.

The world will judge us whether we like it or not. If we don’t immunize ourselves against the world’s judgments, we will end up losing.

This was demonstrated in the Presidential debates where Obama was often perceived as cool and calm and McCain was perceived as edgy, even angry.

It seems, McCain let all of this get to him in the gut. Obama didn’t, despite the fact that he had every reason to, especially the racial stuff.

One of the way to not let it hit you in the gut is to…

Lesson #2: Don’t make it about “me” make it about “them”

“Them” here is not just your customer (voters) but also your team, your volunteers (your employees, partners and other stake-holders) and your suppliers.When you make it about “them”, “they” will make it about “you.” They will give you their time, their energy and their money. They may even give you their hearts and their souls. They will bend over backwards for you, even follow you till the end.

In the end, true leadership is never just about “me,” it’s about “us”.

Great leaders demonstrate their leadership qualities through their action, not by talking about it…

Lesson #3: The proof is in the pudding

The way that Obama ran his campaign showed his leadership skills. No matter what your political affiliation is, would a lousy leader be able to raise $300 million, most of it from average people in small amounts? Would an incompetent leader be able to build the ground operation that Obama built to turn out the vote? Would a bad leader be able to lead a campaign organization with millions of volunteers who did not get paid a penny (actually many of them paid the campaign, in the form of donations)?

Sure, the winds were blowing in the direction of the democrats. But under an incompetent leadership, it would have still been easy to blow this election. It’s been done before - twice.

A good measure of a great leader, both in business and politics, is how prepared she is…

Lesson #4: Luck is preparation meeting opportunity

The 13-minute video created in first week of October by the Obama campaign was created by David Axelrod in April of 2008, 5 months before they used it. I suspect that the campaign ultimately used only a fraction of the total firepower they had collected. But being prepared gives you that cold confidence that allows you to respond to problems and opportunities as they are presented.

Because of their preparedness, the Obama campaign was able to take advantage of the opportunity created by the economic crisis in October of 2008.

But there will be times when things just won’t go your way…

Lesson #5: Stay the course when the wind is not blowing your way

A good example isBarack Obama staying with his message throughout the campaign, even when things got rough. In some rare moments, he did get off his message (remember “lipstick on a pig”?). When he did, the campaign lost ground.

There are plenty of tempting opportunities to change the course along the way. A leader must respond to such opportunities with a cool head. That’s why, a great leader will often seem like he is a slow decision maker…

Lesson #6: Quick decision-making does not always mean good decision-making

A social and political leader – and yes, a business leader - has many things to consider before making decisions.

Lately, it has been wrongly assumed that quick, hard-headed decision makers are good leaders. It’s only in the last 8 years that impulsive, half-baked, erratic and stubborn decision-making has been associated with good leadership. Most Americans now agree that (77% to 23% as of the time of this writing) that’s not true.

People recognized this when they saw McCain respond to the economic crisis with putting his campaign on hold and flying off to Washington. Same thing when he picked Sarah Palin, an untested and controversial figure, as his running mate.

Some of our best Presidents were slow decision makers. They agonized, they looked for counsel, they talked with their advisors, they sought to look at issues from many angles before making important decisions. One of our greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was notorious for slow, deliberate decision making. And he was a war-time president.

Other examples of slow yet effective decision makers: Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton.

Yet, don’t confuse slow decision making with slow actions. Great leaders, once their minds are made up, take swift, committed action. Lincoln, once he knew that his fight against slavery was a just fight, never wavered from his commitment to winning the Civil War, even when it dragged on and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost.

When it comes to action, great leaders never get complacent, even when going is good…

Lesson #7: Keep that sense of urgency even - especially - when you are ahead

Three weeks before the election, when he was ahead in every poll, Obama had one message for his voters and supporters: “Don’t Get Complacent.” He wanted the voters to turn out to vote. He urged the supporters to keep knocking on more and more doors.

This is especially true in business. We need to prospect more when the pipeline is full and when we are hitting our sales goals. We need to service our customers better just when they sing our praises. We need to challenge our employees to accomplish even more, just when they have shattered their previous records.

Good leaders don’t quit because they are ahead, they fortify that lead to set themselves up for even a better advantage…

Lesson #8: Don’t take chances

After they raised $150 million in September, an astounding number by any measure, the Obama Campaign kept raising money in October. After they were ahead in polls in most swing states, which were Republican to begin with, the Obama Campaign started expanding their campaigning into other states - like West Virginia, Arizona and Missouri. After building perhaps the most formidable ground operation in political history, they kept knocking on doors to turn out the vote.

When your business is doing well, it’s easy to want to slow down a little. But we need to resist that urge and instead, keep moving, keep growing.

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly…

Lesson #9: Bring something unique to the field of leadership

One thing that Obama brought to his campaign and now to his administration is his ability to inspire and engage ordinary people from all walks of life. This is truly Obama’s signature style.

No other President has brought this to his campaign, or his governing style.

A lot has been written about why Barack Obama’s presidency is historic because he is the first African American president. What’s not written about enough is that even if he was not black, his campaign would have been considered historic. For the reasons mentioned above and more. I envite you to write your own lessons and share with us here.


Business Lessons from the Presidential Primaries

Whether you agree with the election and selection process of the presidential candidates in the U.S. this year - or the choices of the candidates - one thing is certain. It’s leaving us an unprecedented volume of lessons, even for us business people.

Here are some of the lessons I have been jotting down from time to time. They are not in any particular order, nor is this an exhaustive list, by any means. But it’s a start and my hope is that you will contribute your own lessons by responding to this article.

So here we go. As you read these, think about whether your business is on the right track or it needs to make a correction.

Lesson #1: Secure the “three M’s” as Early as Possible. We need three things while starting and managing a successful enterprise - the three M’s: 1) Message, 2) (Wo)Men, and 3) Money. Having these three ingredients in place won’t guarantee success, of course, but we are bound to suffer if one of them is missing or weak. Hillary Clinton had money and manpower but her message was weak. Obama had all three. None of the candidates on the Republican side had all three to begin with. The only thing that John McCain had was message and he was seriously lacking in the other two.

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