If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. — John Quincy Adams
Let me start out by saying that I’m a very big fan of local government.
Serving as an alderman and then as my community’s first woman mayor, I came to appreciate how local government touches our lives every single day. Local government is about our quality of life, our safety, and the education and future of our children. And, whether you’re a politician, government employee or grassroots organizer, local government is where you can actually get things done.
Although I valued my role as an elected official, I wasn’t a career politician. I juggled public service with running a multi-million dollar business in the commercial construction industry. My schedule was crazy as I tried to balance work, politics, and my personal life, but I loved every minute of it!
I’m grateful for my experience in both the government and corporate sectors because it made me a better leader in each of those worlds.
Here are the top five leadership lessons I learned from the intersection of business and politics…
Lesson #1: Leadership is a people business
You don’t achieve business success or get elected to public office on your own. Along the way you need support from colleagues, employees, customers, and constituents. Always remember those who helped you get to where you are today and continually thank and reward your supporters. Keep in touch with them, deliver on the promises you made, be honest and transparent, stand up for them…show them that you care. Whether it’s at your office or at City Hall, you’re in the people business.
Lesson #2: Create your own leadership image…before someone else does it for you
Maybe you’ve heard this quote from Winston Churchill: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Leaders are leaders all the time and it’s important to create a continually strong, competent brand. Your words, actions, and appearance communicate who you are and what you stand for. If you don’t write your own story, you risk having someone else write a (less flattering!) story for you.
You only get one chance at a first impression, so make sure you project an authentic image that conveys your values, personality, and integrity. Your image and reputation are your most valuable assets.
Lesson #3: Build a loyal team
A leader doesn’t just lead others, he or she works with others to make good decisions and create positive change. Surround yourself with a diverse group of trusted advisors who help you see things more clearly and from a variety of perspectives.
Learn to depend on people for help and delegate responsibility to them. Celebrate individual and team successes and stand by them when things don’t go well. If you’re loyal to your team, they will be loyal to you in return.
Lesson #4: Create an inspiring vision of the future
Leaders have bold, transformative ideas and they take those ideas from inspiration to implementation by enlisting the help of others. If you paint a vivid picture of the future, create a shared vision of success, and provide a concise plan to achieve it, people will willingly follow and support you.
Steve Jobs’ vision was clear and his focus relentless…and now we all have computers on our desks and smart phones in our pockets.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired a nation to act on civil rights by continually and consistently sharing his vision and communicating his message.
Do you have an “I Have a Dream” speech?
Lesson #5: Accept the fact that not everyone will like you
Aristotle, who literally wrote the book on politics and is considered one of the most business-oriented philosophers, said it best: “there is only one way to avoid criticism…do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing”.
There are a couple reasons you’re going to ruffle some feathers as a leader. First, other people want the same thing you want…the same customers, votes, recognition…just to name a few. Second, leaders create change and take risks, and most people are resistant to change and fear the unknown.
The bottom line is: if you’ve stood up for anything, you’re going to have a few adversaries.
Honesty, integrity, and trust are the essential requirements for success in both politics and business. Thanks for reading about my lessons learned at the intersection of business and politics.
How about you…
How have your intersecting roles made you a better leader?