Winning the Political Game: Two Political Leadership Tips

(1)   Define victory yourself. Don’t leave it to others. 

If you’re an elected or appointed official in government, your success is going to be measured. That’s especially so if you make promises during an election. So it makes sense for you to define what constitutes victory, rather than allowing the news media or an opponent to do it.

So when announcing a new program, or key initiative, or goals for the year, set expectations at a level you can exceed. I don’t mean you shouldn’t set high goals. But stay humble. It’s far better to under-promise and over-deliver than fall short of high expectations. And never use a number you’re not prepared to live with, because numbers take on lives of their own and get repeated over and over again. Keep your promises modest and exceed expectations.

(2)   Politics needs passion and resolve. One reason (among many) that I would never be a good politician is that I don’t have enough passion. I’m not enough of a true believer. A successful politician exudes passion. You can’t lead, motivate and inspire without passion. Many political decisions are very close calls and both sides have merit. But you have to take a side and then be passionate about it. Passion can cover up a lot of defects. Anyone who has been in a meeting or discussion with a great politician might disagree with some or all of what he or she says. But good politicians say it with such certainty and passion that they get away with it.

Without passion, your supporters have nothing to rally around, nothing to inspire them. You have to be a true believer. People like me aren’t cut out for politics because they see both sides too clearly and are too wishy-washy. That’s a good trait for a journalist or an advisor, but not for a politician. You have to decide what your position is, believe it, and state it with fervor and passion. Don’t look back; don’t second guess yourself.

Certainly, decisions have to be made carefully and with analysis and consideration of all sides. And mistakes should be acknowledged and dealt with quickly. But in most circumstances, once a decision is made, it’s time to go forward.

I’ve said of some of my favorite politicians: “He’s often wrong — but never in doubt.” People want leadership, someone with the courage of their convictions. Don’t be conflicted or torn. Don’t say, "I tend to be leaning this way, but on the other hand . . ." Making a decision and then sticking with that decision with conviction and passion is crucial to success.