During the eighteen intensive months of an American presidential campaign, business leaders could potentially hear hundreds of candidates speaking. Executives and managers might mistakenly assume that these public figures got to the forefront because they are superb speakers-and therefore role models for addressing audiences.
Admittedly, most candidates display admirable traits while speaking. They seem to have mastered considerable information, they appear poised, and they know how to ignite a group. Even so, business leaders need to recognize at least seven reasons why the habits of political speakers would not work in a business environment.
ONE: Politicians constantly change positions on important issues.
Replays of speeches years ago-or even months ago-illustrate how candidates have altered their platforms on gun control, international relations, marital arrangements, economic policies, and more.
A business leader with that tendency would lose credibility quickly. His or her team wants consistency. While occasional position shifts make sense if circumstances and evidence justify them, frequent unwarranted policy variations foster confusion and a decline in morale.
TWO: Politicians advise, “Choose me because the competition is worse.”
Charley knew that his consulting firm was among the final three under consideration to direct a major fund raising campaign for a prestigious college. For his final interview, Charley decided to downgrade the opposition. “You know,” he warned, “they have hidden fees they haven’t told you about. And instead of sending a partner to conduct your campaign, they’ll send a newly hired apprentice. That’s not what they’re telling you now, so I’m sure you’ll welcome my warning.”
Charley’s firm did not land the campaign contract. The college president knew little about the advantages of hiring Charley’s team.
THREE: Politicians use facts that don’t hold up under investigation.
Better not try that in your work place. The Board of Directors wants audits, not estimates. Customers want documented proof that your product will work, and warranties to replace faulty equipment. Employees expect you to explain benefits honestly.
FOUR: Politicians make promises that sound good but can’t be fulfilled.
Yet woe to the business leader who pledges “We can’t give you a raise this year because our profits won’t justify bonuses. But I guarantee we will make up for that next year, so stick with us and keep up the good work.” Oh really? Why will the next twelve months bring a turnaround?
FIVE: Politicians use vague “pie in the sky” lingo without detailed plans.
The MBAs you hired five years ago are not going to accept assertions that “better days are just around the corner,” “we’ve got what it takes to become an industry leader,” “customers are going to create traffic jams when we open that new branch,” or similar pipe dreams. Give them a what, when, and how scenario.
SIX: Politicians avoid accepting responsibility and blame.
In recent years we have witnessed the emergence of new words that attempt to cover political falsehoods. Example: Instead of “I lied,” political figures claim “I misspoke.”
Top business leaders admit errors. Decades ago, a soft drink company’s executives apologized publicly for trying to replace the beloved original soda with a substitute that was instantly rejected by millions of consumers. Automobile manufacturers stay in business and maintain credibility by recalling faulty cars.
SEVEN: Politicians ignore time limits.
In speeches and debates, candidates appear to have little awareness of the clock. Often they continue after a moderator’s warning bell. They seem unaware of speaker courtesy and listener fatigue.
On the other hand, wise managers recognize that attention spans have shrunk drastically in the last couple of decades. Employees do not welcome all-day retreats with CEOs and department heads droning on endlessly. Technology enables us to reduce the number and frequency of meetings.
Yes, it’s helpful to speak with the subject mastery, energy, and confidence many politicians display. But remain aware of the harmful speaking patterns that will backfire in the business arena.