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Political mindset: five lessons for CEOs

Government should be run like a business and politicians should follow what the business leaders are doing, matching their drive for efficiency and innovation

By: EBR - Posted: Monday, October 09, 2017

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Crises as opportunities. This idea is seen by many as a cliché, but it’s more like common wisdom seldom truly understood. Politics is, par excellence, the place of change and reinvention, often under pressure from events and public opinion. To use a paraphrase, politics abhors not a vacuum, but stability. Reinvent yourself or die politically is the motto (or the nightmare) of every true political leader. The propensity for change has taught politicians some valuable lessons: preach the need for change but never reform too much at once; take calculated risks; leverage flaws and imperfections; have people with various skills and social access in your team; take advantage of absence and silence and befriend unpredictability.
Crises as opportunities. This idea is seen by many as a cliché, but it’s more like common wisdom seldom truly understood. Politics is, par excellence, the place of change and reinvention, often under pressure from events and public opinion. To use a paraphrase, politics abhors not a vacuum, but stability. Reinvent yourself or die politically is the motto (or the nightmare) of every true political leader. The propensity for change has taught politicians some valuable lessons: preach the need for change but never reform too much at once; take calculated risks; leverage flaws and imperfections; have people with various skills and social access in your team; take advantage of absence and silence and befriend unpredictability.

MORE ON Analyses

by Radu Magdin*
 
This is a too common line heard everywhere in the last 30 years. In the face of the discredit of mainstream politics, the technocratic, business-like style of government has been preached as the alternative to the surge of populism and other political pathologies that have grown to threaten democracy itself. But when looking at election results in recent years, all to often we wonder if populism is not gaining traction against the very promoters of such a mindset, political and business elites. 
 
What I argue is that such a view -that politics should copy business for success- is partial and does not make justice to the complexity surrounding the "business" of government; in fact, the sharing of best practices should be a bidirectional commonality: there is still a lot the CEOs can learn from the way politicians operate. Here is some distilled political advice which can inform the decision of future-shaping business leaders.   
 
Coalition-building. Many successful political stories are presented as exemplifications of the David and Goliath myth. What is often ignored is that they are more likely the consequence of assembling performant teams or, when necessary, of even working with the competitors. A mix of loyalty and pragmatism permeates politics and, without doubt, the same recipe applies to the business world. The leader-centred focus of the media should not prevent a closer look at how magic happens when the right skills and people find the will and energy to work together. Learning to share and to find allies even in the most surprising places has become a key political characteristic of thriving new or old political movements (e.g. Macron's En Marche, Merkel's CDU).
 
The force of ideas. Material resources are important, but, as we know too well, there are things money cannot buy. The ideas are the "raw material" of politics. Political success is reached by inspiring, by promoting great ideas and by delivering true change. It should never be ignored how political leaders gain the trust of voters without focusing on very concrete and immediate benefits for the voters; the handouts have never won elections, but, note bene, aligning vision, values, and will has always worked. In a properly-conceived CSR strategy, caring about the people must be shown rather than told.
 
Defending reputation. Ask any politician what matters the most to him/her and reputation is among the top three answers (well, money and power show up there too -nobody is perfect-, sometimes replaced, gracefully, by people). Too often, CEOs are ready to go above and beyond in protecting the image of their company, but they are not consistently interested in responding to attacks that threatens their own credibility. We are too familiar with the stories about the obscene bonuses and revenues of business executives and with how they prefer a legalistic approach to a more human one. The right balance between the image of the party and the credibility of the leader has been internalised in politics and could serve as a good lesson to global business actors. Juggling between the desire to please and the need to inspire authority comes only second to enjoying a solid reputation. In the end, we are what our reputation says we are.    
 
Crises as opportunities. This idea is seen by many as a cliché, but it's more like common wisdom seldom truly understood. Politics is, par excellence, the place of change and reinvention, often under pressure from events and public opinion. To use a paraphrase, politics abhors not a vacuum, but stability. Reinvent yourself or die politically is the motto (or the nightmare) of every true political leader. The propensity for change has taught politicians some valuable lessons: preach the need for change but never reform too much at once; take calculated risks; leverage flaws and imperfections; have people with various skills and social access in your team; take advantage of absence and silence and befriend unpredictability.
 
Focus on the long-term game. Yes, Keynes was right to say that in the long run we are all dead. But, to counter with Eisenhower's words, although plans are useless, planning is indispensable. Despite the 24-hour news cycle, politics is a long-term and catch-all game, and exactly these properties offer the discipline and focus that are essential for success. It is all about choosing the right moment to attack, about realism and tactical retreats, about looking strong when weak and weak when strong. Fortunes can be built from one quarter to another, legacies need decades.
 
Global entrepreneurs should start training for sustainable success both in the timeless rules of political strategy and the tactics and specifics of local politics in the markets where their companies operate: when in Rome, think and act like Roman rulers do.
 
*Radu Magdin is political strategist, former Prime Ministerial advisor

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