Corporate lessons inspired by this year’s congressional speaker vote
People across the United States were captivated at the start of the new year by the spectacle in Washington around the election of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House. Throughout the high-profile vote, onlookers saw everything from elected officials taking steps to govern on behalf of the American people, poking fun at their colleagues, and certainly, taking opportunities to raise their own political profiles.
By and large, the operations of corporate board rooms are much more purposeful than what was on display in the Congressional Chamber. But even this hyper-politicized event can teach business executives about how to lead through high-pressure situations.
There are clear parallels between the roles of elected officials and CEOs, showing why the two can borrow from each other’s playbook. For starters, both need to navigate the interests of a broad range of stakeholders. For politicians, it may be political opponents, members of their own party, constituents, or community partners. Executives in turn are managing the needs and expectations of their investors, customers, business partners, employees, and government officials. The public has always entrusted politicians to serve society writ large, and increasingly, that’s been an expectation of business leaders, too.
Both sets of leaders are also doing their jobs under a microscope. Whether their every move is being cast via C-SPAN and analyzed on Twitter or dissected on Squawk Box, leaders are forced to manage issues much more publicly than ever.
Purple Strategies was born of this idea that companies were finding themselves in more dynamic and campaign-like environments and that by bringing perspective and campaign-inspired strategies from the blue and red sides of the political aisle, we could help them navigate that new world order. Today, we help companies and executives every day doing just that, applying diverse perspectives and the principles of politics to help solve complex issues and drive businesses forward.
Here are five actions CEOs can take to prepare for their own high-pressure moments:
(1) Codify your party platform.
High-functioning political operations have a clear party platform that guides candidates’ policy priorities and campaigns. The same principle is true for companies. Building consensus and working through thorny challenges relies on having a solid foundation of the mission, values, and goals that undergird an organization and are greater than any one individual.
(2) Be authentic and purposeful.
Strong leaders can adapt when situations require but are steadfast when it comes to their priorities and core identity. At Purple, we work with leaders to build an executive framework that helps them stay true to these qualities, regardless of the situation. Central to each framework is an executive identity or persona that’s based on a thorough landscape review and becomes an authentic, differentiating, and aspirational characterization of that leader’s style. The framework also includes pillars outlining the themes and topics that the leader wants to keep in-focus. Especially in high-pressure situations, executives turn to their frameworks to ensure they act in a way that’s on-strategy and true to their leadership.
(3) Execute a campaign-inspired activation plan.
Much like being a member of Congress, advancing priorities, building coalitions, and getting ahead of issues before they become a problem all come with the job of CEO. What’s different is corporations don’t have an election day, which can lead to no or slow action by companies on emerging issues. That’s why crafting a plan to consistently engage important stakeholders, credibly act on priorities, and respond to headwinds is so important. Advance planning around these factors becomes an antidote to inaction and helps executives get ahead of roadblocks to their agenda.
(4) Conduct scenario planning.
Scenario plans are an essential part of any political campaign and business plan, and they should be part of every CEO thought leadership plan too. Taking time well in advance to anticipate scenarios the leader could face and planning the messaging and contingencies to use, if needed, helps streamline decision-making and avoid costly missteps.
(5) Prioritize communications training.
Across the public and private sector, the most effective persuasive speakers are so compelling because they practice. Beyond regular traditional media trainings, politicians also spend hours in debate practice and receiving coaching on how to clearly drive a message across formats. Applying these same tactics with executives works seamlessly to help them also communicate in a way that’s engaging, memorable, and in support of their business goals. Amazon Board Member and Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said, “You cannot overinvest in communication skills…If you cannot simplify a message and communicate it compellingly, believe me, you cannot get the masses to follow you.” CEOs’ schedules are notoriously busy, but making time to sharpen how they communicate is worth it given the stakes.
As much of a circus that politics can be, there’s a great deal CEOs can learn from it. Read more about how Purple Strategies helps companies and their leaders manage these new political realities.
By Diana Muggeridge | Director
This article first appeared in The Leadership Issue (page 36-37) of The CEO Forum Group quarterly magazine.