3 Good Things L&D Professionals Can Learn from Presidential Candidates

Training Magazine March -April 2016 CoverIn the cover story for this month’s Training magazine, author Gail Dutton takes a look at the ongoing presidential primary races from a unique perspective: what learning and development professionals can learn from each candidate’s approach.

Just like a presidential candidate, Dutton says, L&D professionals have to remain relevant, stay in the race, and advance their agendas.

By taking a closer look at presidential campaign positioning and maneuverings, Dutton believes that executives charged with leading the learning and development of others can “identify tactics that work, determine why others failed, and apply those insights to ensure their message is heard above the chatter.”

Here are a few of her key points:

Be Aspirational—Express a Great Purpose

Whether it is Donald Trump’s “Let’s Make America Great Again” slogan or Bernie Sanders ’ anti-corporate, anti-establishment, anti-money stance, it’s important that L&D leaders achieve that same clarity by refining their message down to its key elements, says Dutton.

Dutton quotes Lawrence Polsky, cofounder of teambuilding and coaching firm Teams of Distinction.  In politics, Polsky says, “Sanders talks in terms of revolution, appealing to his followers to act. Trump outlines his specific steps to make America great.”

Sanders’s and Trump’s statements in their respective debates have catalyzed discussions. That happens in business, too, writes Dutton. “When L&D leaders can articulate an aspirational goal and connect it to specific steps employees can take to reach it, they inspire action.”

Tailor Your Message—Cautiously

Leaders must understand their audience but they also must consider the consequences. Dutton writes, “During primary elections, candidates appeal to their bases. But statements that appeal to core supporters may backfire during the general election. As a case in point, when Hillary Clinton was asked of which enemy she was most proud, she said, ‘The Republicans.’”

Dutton points out that William Senft, coauthor of the book Being Rational, writes, “That pitch appealed to the self-interests of one group but alienated much of the electorate.”

Dutton says the message for L&D leaders is to consider the big picture. Focusing strictly on one element of a program may resonate with leaders from that discipline—but when pitching to the C-suite, concerns such as expenses, returns, capital usage, and opportunity costs must be considered.

Be Authentic and Show Your Human Side

Dutton shares that a Bell Leadership Institute survey of 2,700 employees found that a sense of humor was one of the two most mentioned attributes of good leaders. In the first Republican debate, Carly Fiorina apparently forgot that fact and appeared painfully severe. Soon afterward, she released an old family photo of herself and her young daughters posing in a bubble bath to highlight her whimsical side. Business leaders needn’t go that far, but the ability to laugh does make them more approachable.

Dutton quotes author William Senft again: “Hillary, on the other hand, has issues with authenticity. She’s tried over the years to present herself as easygoing and likeable. In reality, she’s intense and ambitious. People sense that and have a difficult time accepting her [when she tries to be something she isn’t].”

“That’s true for organizations, too,” writes Dutton. “Be who and what you are.”

To see more comparisons (and 9 quick tips for L&D professionals), check out Dutton’s complete article What Can L&D Learn from the Presidential Race? in the March/April issue of Training magazine.

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