Six Things Politicians Can Learn From Sales

There is more to sustaining the support of the voting electorate than ‘bagging bin Laden’ or ‘shirt-fronting Putin’. Leadership is mercurial stuff and politicians have incredibly difficult jobs living their lives in a fish bowl with rock throwers and trolls everywhere. Worse than this, they face a mountain to climb every day concerning trust. People just don’t believe them because of the endless spin, broken promises, reannouncing old policies, and the disingenuous way in which they drive agendas (smiling and positive but with mud all over your hands).

President Obama is a master orator and his team leveraged social media like never before in creating real cut-through and momentum to rally those who were traditionally disengaged. But even if the American political system allowed for more than two terms, Obama would have almost no chance of securing a third. This is because he has a massive credibility problem – trust is lost when anyone fails to deliver or is perceived to be playing the public for fools.

In Australia, we have a new government in place following the most dysfunctional period of political rule in the country’s history. In 2007, Kevin Rudd won office but before his first term was over, his own party knifed him and installed his deputy, Julia Gillard. But Rudd remained in the background stirring the pot until he eventually had his day of revenge and engineered another ‘night of the long knives’ to overthrow a sitting Prime Minister for the second term in a row. Gillard was jettisoned and Rudd was resurrected in a desperate act by the party to limit losses. Incompetence, popularism and cannibalization were the hallmarks of this era in Australian Politics. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd period was one where Australia went from having a massive surplus and huge ‘future fund’ war-chest to unprecedented levels of debt and out of control deficits.

Following the dysfunctional incumbent's implosion, the new government in Australia has been in power for less than a year and the honeymoon period is over. Their economic reforms are being blocked because they don't have the numbers in the upper house (senate). They have had success with stopping the tragic loss of life (>1,200 people) from people smugglers trafficking in ‘boat people’ but they’ve lost their way with how they’re communicating economic reform and are hoping that the Christmas break will help them get ‘back on message’.

Politicians can learn much from professional selling and here are some areas for them to consider:

  • Focus on the customer [citizens] rather than the competition [political opponents]. It may be entertaining but attacking the other side is a poor strategy. If you argue with an idiot, observers find it difficult to distinguish between the combatants. Listen to understand rather than for your chance to speak. Listening with empathy is the most powerful form of influence. Make it all about understanding and serving your customers [citizens].

  • Set a vision and agenda for an achievable future while solving problems and managing risk. Make the vision inspiring, and backed-up by competent execution. Avoid using fear as a weapon or to motivate because it loses its effectiveness very quickly.

  • Create emotional connection to every point you make. Rather than lead with information and logic, recognize that people buy emotionally and then rationalize with data. Lead with ‘why’ rather than with ‘what’ or ‘how’.

  • Positively differentiate with your values and by being transparent and straight-forward. Serve with purpose and make sure you are a ‘true believer’. If you have to change a policy or fail on a commitment, simply explain why, say sorry and be clear about what you will do next.

  • Deliver on promises with competence in execution. Strategy without good execution is fantasy. Policy without good execution is a one-term government. Be a person of integrity in all you do but if you cannot implement for whatever reason, then front-up and call it for what it is. Then you can move on.

  • Don't try to sell to those who will not buy. Focus efforts on those who can be swayed. Be gracious and polite to those who are committed to the competition but don't waste time there as it annoys them and frustrates you.

My vision and mission in what I do is to help selling be a profession of integrity and value; and I hope it comes through in my posts. Politics is a tough game with compromise being a constant reality, but it need not be a profession lacking integrity. We must all clearly define what we stand for and surround ourselves with positive people, each with a strong moral compass.

Call me crazy but imagine a world where we had 4 year fixed terms and all sides had to publish their ‘prospectus’ (vision, mission, values and specific policies, commitments and decision frameworks) 90 days before an election. Then after 3 years in power, an accounting firm conducts an audit and publishes the results against the prospectus – a balanced scorecard if you will across all the critical areas. Imagine the change this system could bring if politicians and union leaders were also subject to the same laws governing company directors; where fraud, corruption and misrepresentation resulted in going to jail.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Benson Kuo

Why Prime Minister Lost His Job

Politics is toxic and nowhere more-so than in Australia. Our Prime Minister was the bloke who threatened to ‘shirt-front’ Vladimir Putin over Russia’s role in the shooting down of MH17. He is from the right, like the Republicans, but without the Bible and handgun. Unlike the American political system, the party holding power can replace their leader even though they campaigned to the electorate under the banner of their leader to win office. The Prime Minister Abbott faced a potential revolt within caucus and came through unconvincingly. Although he fended off the first assault but then eventually lost the Prime Ministership to Malcolm Turnbull.

Politics is selling and Prime Minister Abbott must learn to speak from the heart, get real with journalists and the electorate to deal with the real cause of his problem. Let me give you an example of Abbott’s problem. Last week he was interviewed by our equivalent of an uber Fox News right wing commentator, Alan Jones, who threw an easy pitch for Abbott to smash out of the park – 'hit for six', to use a cricket metaphor. What happened… Prime Minister Abbott responded with vanilla custard sprinkled with liberal doses of ums and ahs (16 in just 45 seconds). Here it is.

Alan Jones finished the interview with: “You’re hopeless at talking about yourself… it’s clear that a lot of people don’t really know their Prime Minister. Who is Tony Abbott? We’re going to 77 stations – tell us about yourself... who is the real Tony Abbott?”

Prime Minister Abbott’s response (without the annoying ums and ahs): “Well; I’ve always been a bit reluctant to blow my own trumpet Alan; and I like to think that the facts speak for themselves. I’m the father of three daughters; I’m the brother of 3 sisters. I love my community, which I try to serve as a volunteer fire fighter and as a surf lifesaver. Obviously I like sport and try to get plenty of physical exercise because I think that's good for your mental health as well as everything else. But most of all, I am the Prime Minister of this country and I am spending every ounce of energy, I am dedicating every fiber of my being, to try to ensure this country flourishes.”

Alan Jones knows how to sell. He highlighted that the current government has inherited a debt crisis. Australia had 20% higher debt per citizen than Greece and the daily interest bill for government was $37,000,000. The Australian government was borrowing $110,000,000 per day to service debt and fund the budget deficit. Australia’s GDP was approximately 55% of California’s and it would take an Australian worker earning an annual salary of $75,000, 400 years just to service one day of interest payments for Australia’s national debt.

Here’s what Prime Minister Abbott needed to do to climb in opinion poll rankings. First, ‘ditch the script’ and forget the artificial humility. He is Rhodes Scholar and champion boxer... get on the front foot by being embracing the very things people claim are why they don't like him. Here is what I would have coached him to say to Alan Jones.

“Alan, I know people love to hate me… it’s become a sport – but I probably deserve it. I was chief head-kicker for a while in the Howard government and I made lots of enemies as a result. It was my role in the team at the time and if politics is just a popularity competition, then I’m in trouble. But you know what – I think the public are sick of populists who are incompetent. The last mob cost more than a thousand lives will poor execution of policy with boat people. They frittered away decades of hard work to destroy what was the strongest economy in the world. They set us on an unnecessary path of economic destruction and we’ve got to fix the economy with strong leadership. I know I need to listen more and improve my public speaking skills but [back to what he actually finished with] I am spending every ounce of energy, I am dedicating every fiber of my being, to try to ensure this country flourishes.”

He should be self-deprecating and embrace the haters. Humbly and humorously wear it as a badge of honor. Have a belly laugh (maybe his heart-felt laughter looks much better than the awkward smirk attempted smile; and he should wave like mad when they boo him at sporting events. When journalists ask him why he rates so low in opinion poles, he should just smile warmly and say: ‘You know sometimes I hate myself too [have a laugh at yourself]; but I have this crazy belief that Australians want someone who can run the place well. Competence in delivering what we’ve promised is what I’m focused on. Hopefully enough people will love to hate me enough to allow us to continue getting the place back on track economically and with sensible policy.”

He also needed to:

  • Learn to smile and laugh naturally. Embrace the hate and wear it humorously as a badge of honor.

  • Hire the best speech coach to overcome his 'ums' and 'ahs'. Maybe Geoffrey Rush is available after what he did in The King’s Speech.

  • Stop walking like he just got off a horse rather than a bike. I know he rides his bike nearly as much as Lance training for the Tour de Drug Testing, and as Tyler Hamilton wrote in his book, The Secret Race, professional cyclists are beautiful on a bike but walk like old men. A natural gate can be developed even for those who’ve had major knee or hip surgery.

We need the very best leaders in politics. They need to be authentic, not cardboard cut-out personas. Winning political office is selling and marketing; Winning reelection is about competence in delivery of what you promise... and sales and marketing. Sell; deliver; sell again. Selling is changing someone's emotional state, not the imparting of information. If you want to lead, be the real deal.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: DonkeyHotey