What business leaders can learn from politicians

During the 1997 election campaign I worked on the in-house magazine for parliament, The House Magazine. One task was to source photos of candidates who could win a seat based on a swing of up to 6% to Labour. In the end the swing was 8.8%. Landslide.

We still managed to get the magazine off to the printers within the day. And I can still see those big brown boxes alphabetically labelled with all 659 constituencies.

Of course, it’s not just the way politicians’ mugshots are collated that has changed in the 18 years since.

The whole imagery of the election campaign is of a different tenor. Thanks to social media, what was once a carefully crafted photo opp or six a day, is now an ongoing stream of images taken and circulated in realtime by whoever happens to be nearby with a phone.

From messy eaters to hen parties, politicians have never been more in our face more of the time. It’s enough to give 1997’s spindoctors a coronary.

But here’s the thing. This political generation (and the older one who are still around) seem to have woken up to it. I’m sure even Nigel Farage’s antics in that Ramsgate pub were designed to show how much he is a beer-swilling ‘man of the people’. At least some of the people.

So if our politicians have woken up to social — its promise and perils — why haven’t business leaders?

Like politicians, business leaders are operating in a rapidly changing world where unexpected challenges present themselves everyday. But rather than focusing on the plurality of their communities, too many seem only to care about one — shareholders and their financial press. At least that’s the message they’re giving by their lack of visibility elsewhere.

What would it look like if more business leaders took it upon themselves to walk the stump of their real ‘constituencies’? If they were to get out of their boardrooms and actually listen to people in the business. The people with the real insights, lessons and passion for doing things differently and better.

And not just at election time — year round.

So here’s my manifesto for business leaders. Get out and about and embrace the power of social to listen, learn and engage with your real consituents.

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