Power, Politics and the Bully Pulpit


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Expert Perspective by Grahall’s OmniMedia Editorial Board

Karen Tumulty June 11, 2010 article for the Washington Post  (Politics can be risky business for a CEO) got our Editorial Board talking about executive leadership, in both the political and the corporate arenas.

Tumulty writes: “..there is much about the political environment in 2010 that would seem to make this election year a bull market for CEOs…. If only the government worked like a business, the executives-turned-candidates are fond of telling us, we’d all be better off. The trouble is, by and large, CEOs have turned out to be pretty mediocre politicians… when they manage to get elected, CEOs often are surprised to learn that their skills in the boardroom do not easily translate to the business of governing.”

Tumulty shares a few examples, including Mike Bloomberg, Jon Corzine, Mark Warner, Al Checci and others who were either successful or unsuccessful in their bids for office or their performance once elected. The similarity among all these candidates and politicians, as Tumulty shares: “is their ability to finance a bid for office out of their own checking accounts.” 

So for CEO’s considering a run for public office and for voters who believe as President Obama said in 2008 that “Change doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington” what are those characteristic that will help a CEO find success as a politician?

At its heart, the characteristics that define a successful CEO and a successful politician are leadership coupled with the ability to effectively communicate a vision that will resonate with followers, whether these followers be corporate stake holders (i.e., customers, shareholder, suppliers, employees, etc) or with constituents.

There is a significant difference between stakeholders and constituents that may not always appreciated by “politician CEOs”, be they candidates or elected officials.  Corporate stakeholder have a homogeneous objective: the profitability of the enterprise.  Whereas, the goals of constituents may be as diverse as the streets, towns or states that they populate.

Consensus building with a group whose fundamental goals are similar is far easier than consensus building where goals differ.   Where goals differ, deep understanding of individuals, along with persuasive communications and public realtions savvy are instrumental to the success of a CEO or a politician.

“Politician CEOs” would benefit from studying Teddy Roosevelt, who although primarily a career politician smartly invested time to understand how “people as diverse as ranchers and small farmers in the west, tenement dwellers and shop keepers in the city, and soldiers in battle lived.  This helped him to identify with ordinary citizens from all walks of life.” (From: Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library).  With this understanding, Roosevelt’s oratory from the “bully pulpit” of the Presidency was effective, compelling and a force for consensus building.

Success achieved by CEOs or politicians is closely linked to their understanding of the needs and expectations of stakeholders or constituents.

Contact Grahall’s OmniMedia Editorial Board at edit.kingston@grahall.com

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