Lessons for Change Leaders from this Wild Presidential Campaign

USA presidential election day concept vector illustration.

Only the “Saturday Night Live” writers may hate to see this presidential election come to an end. The 24/7 media coverage, the daily back and forth of the candidates, and three contentious debates have kept our attention – like it or not. You know it’s bad when some have even resorted to the last straw – un-friending on Facebook.

Yet, I’m looking for something constructive to learn from this long and exhausting campaign. Here are my election season lessons for anyone leading a change.

1. Oppo research your ideas.

Oppo research is political short-hand for ‘opposition research’ or proactively discovering everything about your opponent – including the bad stuff. At a minimum, this research includes their voting history, prior speeches and interviews, as well as all public actions.

Do the same with your new idea or change. Know why others will resist the idea. Thoroughly understand the downside of adopting your plans. The only way you will know that the benefits outweigh the perceived risks is by completely understanding the counter point of view.

Don’t surround yourself with others that think just like you. Gather other opinions and input upfront. Then, listen and learn.

2. Respect the sound bite.

An hour-long rally or speech often comes down to a couple of points or sound bites. Before you blame this headline mentality on the media or the two-minute news segment, our brains work that way too. Our attention spans have shrunk by about 40% in the last 10 years and we often remember just a few key points.

Know your 2-3 simple points. Don’t crowd your message with distracting information that will take attention away from your purpose. Distill your recommendations or strategy down to the essence of what really matters. If you don’t, others will do it for you.

3. We want to be inspired.

Political candidates have the tough job of persuading voters that their vision will make voters’ lives better. Campaigning requires very different skills than governing and managing the work. But, the work depends on the inspiration.

If you want others to be willing to change, they need to see and feel the change before they will get on board. Before you think ‘I’m not inspiring’, inspiration doesn’t equate to being a cheerleader, a motivational speaker, or pretending to be someone you’re not. But, inspiring others does take being real and transparent while translating why your ideas matter. Find your own brand of inspiration – not someone else’s.

 4. What worked in the past may not work now.

Strategies that were wildly successful in the presidential primary race often fall flat in the general election with a very different mix of voters.

Technology has dramatically changed everything including campaigns. As an example, the last two presidential elections transformed the use of data and social media to engage voters like never before. Historically, campaigns have relied heavily on an expansive ground game in key battleground states and counties. Yet, that decades-old strategy is being tested this year given how we communicate through technology and social media today.

Change, by definition, means you are taking on a new way of working or engaging with customers. Incorporate new ideas. Invite others in to test past assumptions to see if they are still valid today. This may feel like an unnecessary or frivolous work step, yet this time may be very different. Don’t unknowingly rely just on what worked before.

5. Small victories only matter if they move you in the right direction.

I always encourage my clients to believe in incrementalism and that consistent small steps can ultimately create a tidal wave of change. Yet, this theory only works if those small steps move you consistently toward the desired outcome.

This year’s presidential election has countless examples of a candidate capitalizing on a short-term gain to excite voters at a rally or a fiery comeback that created a media buzz. Yet, on the whole, that one day buzz made no progress toward the desired end game or even created a setback.

As you decide your quick wins and important steps toward short-term progress – remember your big goal. Being intentional will prevent unplanned detours that slow you down.

Do your best to carry on these last few days of the campaign season. And, after all of the analysis and distractions, there are lessons to learn on how we can claim victory for our change too.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults. She can be followed @pattibjohnson.