9 lessons from politics you can apply to business

Most of you see politics and business as two extremely different streams. But aren’t they similar in a lot of ways?

Both require people skills. Both demand you to be an influencer. Also, business and politics are always a roller coaster ride. There will be ups as well as downs. Further, the way of working evolves. The nature of followers – or customers – changes.

And the list of similarities can go on and on.

This made me think. I realized that there are many lessons from politics that we can apply to business. Do you agree? I am sure you will, once you finish reading this article.

9 lessons from politics you can apply to business

The intention is to borrow ideas and techniques from politics and political leaders, that prove to be useful for a business in the short term as well as long term.

Before we start, let me declare this: I am not going to mention any political party or leader by name, because I want you to see this article as business content, and not a political discussion.

So here we go.

1. Be tactical about everything you do

Just as in politics, survival of the fittest holds true in business as well. And to survive, you need to be tactical in your business decisions and actions. In politics, even when you take a stance, you need to be tactical about it.

Let us try to understand how this would apply to a business context through an example.

Assume you are making a sales pitch to a prospect. And the prospect discusses a solution approach where you do not have any capability. How would you react in such a situation?

Is it wise to say “unfortunately we do not have capabilities in the area you mentioned”? It isn’t right? Instead, if you are a tactical person, you would say something like this:

“It’s very good to see you putting forth such a creative solution, but here at our company we do not focus on those areas because, we think the new approach we suggested works the best for our customers.”

Similarly you face multiple such instances where you need to use your wisdom and judgement to act different from the usual.

2. Build an ecosystem that is not completely people dependent

You might have seen political parties falling after the demise of one or more leaders. That happens when the party’s credibility is built majorly around the individual’s popularity and influence among people. But if the party has grown its roots wider with many popular leaders, its likely to stay relevant over the long term.

Similar is the case with a business. Many business struggle to maintain their reputation when key personnel quit.

The solution to this problem is to build an ecosystem that is not heavily dependent on people. Now the question is how to do this. Following are a few steps you could take to achieve this:

  • Build products, services and capabilities for which talent is not scarce: This sometimes can be counter-intuitive to the idea that you need to be in a niche to differentiate yourself. But you can still create innovative products and services that utilize widely available human talent.
  • Create multiple ‘generations’ of skilled employees: This means maintaining a skilled employee base with varying experience through training and mentoring. This ensures that even if some senior personnel leave, you got more people with the same knowledge in the organization.
  • Create reusable assets and resources: This involves maintaining elements that are required to build a product or service, which will help you to easily recreate them without too much human expertise.
  • Do your branding around capabilities, and not people: This is applicable more to new organizations, which attempt to attract investments by highlighting their team strength. While this might help you in your short term funding needs, your business will be significantly impacted if one of the key personnel leaves.

3. Enjoy the journey, not just the outcome

Both in politics and business, you don’t become successful in a day. Remember the old saying ‘Rome is not built in a day’?

So have the patience to put in that extra effort to achieve your long term goals. And try to enjoy that business journey. Put your blood and sweat into everything you do. See every action of yours as a baby step to your future success. Split your larger goal into smaller milestones, and realize those as achievements.

In politics, maybe you start as a local social servant. Then you represent your people in the state assembly. Maybe you become a state or central minister, and much more. You could define success in various ways.

Compare your business life with this. Whether you work for a corporate, or run your own business, learn to enjoy the journey of achieving each piece of success.

4. Focus on solving the cause, not just the problem

In India, the agricultural sector is struggling. And waiving off agricultural loans is a short term solution to the problem. What’s a more practical and long term solution? Improving price levels of agricultural produce and farming effectiveness. Isn’t it? And that’s what a wise politician or government would try to do.

Similarly, if your business is facing an issue, conduct a root cause analysis to identify the actual cause, and take remedial actions to solve it. Let us take an example here.

Assume you need to make a payment to one of your suppliers. But it gets delayed by more than 3 days due to the lengthy invoicing process in your company. If you are to just solve the problem, you might bend the rules to pay the supplier from budget allocated to other purposes.

That definitely helps. But to ensure this doesn’t happen again, you need to revive your invoicing process to make it faster and more convenient. So always see the bigger picture, and act based on it.

5. Be cooperative and collaborative

This is very obvious. A political leader builds his aura by cooperating and collaborating with common people, his followers, colleagues and media. You need to do the same for your business.

Learn the art of cooperating and collaborating with other stakeholders within and outside your organization. It could be your senior management, subordinates, customers, suppliers, third party consultants, your professional network, media, analyst organizations etc.

Collaboration and cooperation could be related to work, sharing information, providing mentorship, maintaining business relationships etc. They are an essential ingredient to building a sustainable business.

6. Emerge yourself as a leader by beating the competition

In politics, there are always multiple candidates competing for a position of power. All successful leaders have overcome their competition to get to the top.

Business is no different from this. The theory that whoever beats the competition wins is true when it comes to doing practical business. Whether you are an individual or a business, when you are selling a product or service to your customers, somebody else is losing out on that opportunity. This means every instance of your success comes at the cost of somebody else’s failure.

But that is a necessary evil. You need to be smarter and prove to be a more useful asset than your peers to emerge as a leader or winner. You need to use a combination of inimitable knowledge, incomparable wisdom and brand image to overcome challenges raised by your colleagues to get into positions of responsibility and leadership.

7. Always expand your fan base

This is about improving your brand and following. For a political leader, higher the number of followers, better his/her popularity, and hence higher is his/her chances of becoming successful.

Similarly in business, a good following and higher brand value lead to better sales and growth. Again just as in the previous point, this applies to both professionals and businesses.

Politicians leverage social media, web & mobile apps, party influence, social activities etc. to build their following. Businesses can use the following avenues to build a significant fan following:

  • Social media, website and other online media
  • Branding through partners
  • Events, conferences and webinars
  • CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities
  • Positioning well in the recruitment market

Don’t hesitate to invest time, money and effort to build a credible brand. If done the right away, it will improve your business outcomes.

8. Loyalty is the key to long term success

We discussed the importance of building a brand and fan base and how to do it. But connecting with just a bunch of random people will not give you high ROI (Return Of Investment). You need to create a set of loyal followers who are highly likely to become your customers.

And loyalty leads to long term business value. You have seen it a lot in politics. Majority of the people blindly follow their favorite leader, once they like his/her ideology and way of working.

In business, brand loyalty could also get to similar heights. Companies like Apple, Nike, Gucci etc are examples of brands that have built a large loyal set of customers over time.

However, this takes time. You could resort to various techniques such as adding emotional elements to your advertisements, introducing products that solve a common customer pain point, contributing more towards social causes etc. to achieve this.

9. Use it as a means to positively impact life around you

One of the most effective ways of growing in popularity is helping the people around you. We all have noticed that political leaders who are actively involved in people related issues earn a high degree of credibility over time. And those who don’t do it just for the sake of doing it, grab the attention and affection of their followers.

You can use this as a tool to make your business more popular as well. As mentioned in the previous point, you can contribute more towards various social causes such as the following:

  • Working towards a sustainable environment
  • Helping to improve quality of education
  • Providing more jobs to socially backward people

Above is not an exhaustive list of actions you can take. But you get the intent here. Helping the life around you is a powerful way to become successful through brand building.

Those are my observations on how you can derive useful ideas from politics that can make a difference to your business, whether you are an entrepreneur or a business professional.

Did you find this article interesting and useful? Let me know in the comments section. Also please feel free to share your thoughts and views.

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