Can Your Employees Learn from Political Candidates?

It’s high-intensity political campaign season, with the news full of politicians arguing with each other, and sometimes not making very much sense. Still, could these people barraging us with their images and voices provide any teachable moments for employees?

A piece I came across in The Kansas City Star online, “Election Year is Prime Time for Workplace Disagreements” by Diane Stafford, got me thinking. Like most of us, I know better than to talk politics in the office, or at any professional gathering. But after events such as televised debates, or speeches, there may be lessons to be learned about everything from effective (and ineffective) communication approaches to presentation and negotiation skills. Do you think you have the potential to create lessons for employees from these widely viewed events?

In your leadership seminars, in which communication styles and skills are taught, do you think it would help to use political candidates as an example of dos and don’ts? Or maybe they simply could provide examples of the challenges and strengths of different styles.

Does every office have a Donald Trump? A super-self-assured, perennial “winner” who enjoys taking an executive-style, top-down approach in which they thrive on unilateral decision-making and sending a message of strength? This is the person who is so self-assured they are what psychologists might call a “controversial” personality type. You either love them or hate them. Such managers can be effective in pushing through their vision, but, on the other hand, might easily offend or alienate colleagues and those they supervise. They are strong, entertaining public speakers, who excel in front of large groups, even if those listening don’t agree with them on much.

What would the leadership learning and development program for your company’s Donald Trump be like? If you work for a large company, I bet you have at least one somewhat comparable personality type.

A learning program might show this individual how to remain a compelling presenter, and a powerful leader, without taking a heavy-handed, designed-to-shock style. A person like this might not realize there are other ways to keep employees’ and colleagues’ attention without alienating many of them in the process.

Similarly, you probably also have a Ted Cruz. A smart, talented manager or executive who isn’t the most personally popular person in the office. They excel at their work, and have been climbing your leadership ranks with speed, but aren’t making many friends along the way. What kind of lessons does a person like this need to learn?

If I were a Learning professional, I might fashion a development program that helps this employee understand how they are coming across to others. Maybe a personality assessment, with the results explained, along with a lesson about other personality types, and how easily you can rub a person with another personality the wrong way, and create a roadblock to reaching goals. As a sensitive person, I’ve always intuitively sensed when I was upsetting people, and can even usually anticipate what’s going to upset others, but many go-getter personality types are not nearly as sensitive, and might be so full of enthusiasm and excitement to move up in their career as fast as possible that they don’t notice those things. A lesson in human psychology might be helpful.

A candidate like Jeb Bush is interesting from a learning point of view because of his wealth of experience and knowledge. He has been found by many to be knowledgeable and experienced, but political observers have marveled at his inability so far to capture the public’s attention, and to generate excitement. So maybe he’s like that seasoned, competent manager, or executive, at your company who has the capability to move to a larger role, but can’t seem to engage those around them. What’s the leadership lesson here?

Could a course on presentation skills be called for? Stories of Jeb Bush have noted the greater knowledge, charm, and capabilities he communicates in one-on-one meetings and in small groups. Why don’t those characteristics translate to presentations in front of large groups filled with strangers? You may have leaders at your company who could move higher in your leadership ranks, and contribute more to the company, if they could just learn how to engage those they just met, versus having to wait for people to get to know them before their capabilities become apparent. A course, or exercises, on making business pitches to strangers could help.

Does your company have its own Bernie Sanders? This is the visionary leader who has high ideals, which might even be achievable, but which are what you might call “reach goals.” The common critique of this leadership style is it’s strong on the big picture and weak on the details. Such leaders excel at capturing the imagination and enthusiasm of colleagues and employees, but often have trouble communicating and enforcing the details necessary to make the vision a reality. Or the details do get hammered out and enforced, but at the cost of employee disillusionment. Those who were excited to follow the leader are disappointed at the work or sacrifices required, or upset about the compromises that end up being necessary to put even a portion of the vision into action. What lesson is there here for some of your executives?

A leadership development program for a Bernie Sanders might emphasize the creation of manageable projects to make the reality of the vision workable for those the leader manages. The lessons for this leader might also help them break the work related to the vision into manageable “bites” for employees. They also may need to learn about setting expectations with employees, and those above them, so they don’t fall into the trap of over-promising and under-delivering.

Your company’s Hillary Clinton may need some of the same lessons as your company’s Jeb Bush. This is another version of the intelligent, knowledgeable person who sometimes has trouble generating the kind of enthusiasm a Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump does. What’s the challenge here? Maybe the lesson is just the opposite of that needed by the Bernie Sanders type. Some personalities, like your Hillary Clinton, like so much structure and organization that they forget about the need to inspire and energize. They get so hung up on the details and the work required to get the job done, they forget the need to inspire and excite the employees they need for the job to be a success. Could a course, or exercises, on improving employee engagement and gaining employee buy-in help your Hillary Clinton?

This year’s presidential candidates are prototypes of personalities many of us have in our companies. Learning to recognize those personalities in your office, and figuring out how to build on each of their strengths, while offsetting their weaknesses, will help you build a stronger leadership team.

What have you noticed about the presidential candidates that might translate into teachable moments for your employees? How can these leadership personalities help you better understand the leaders your department works with, and creates training for?

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