How politicians train people not to vote (and the caution for corporate leaders)

By evoke
July 26, 2011

Tom Peters, of “In Search of Excellence” fame, was brought in by a company to talk to its sales group. Standing in front of them on stage, he asked for a compelling reason why anyone should buy from them. He was able to dismiss every answer suggested by the salespeople as being generic or undifferentiated or without substance.

In frustration, one salesperson in the audience put up his hand and said “we’re no worse than any of our competitors”. Peters looked at his audience and said “do you want your sales story to be that you are no worse than your competitors?”

As the provincial election draws near, the three leaders and their parties are each sending the message that they are no worse than their competitors even though what they want to say is that they are far better. This disconnect is created because each of the three parties insists on running the same old, same old political campaign formats that politicians and their strategists have used for decades.

The Conservatives and the NDP are trying to attract voters with one pandering promise after another. Sweating the details but not how they link together, they have no sense of a big picture and where they are leading this province in the future. Dalton McGuinty was quoted in yesterday’s Toronto Star as saying “Where are we going? How are we getting there? They don’t answer those questions.” That they don’t articulate where they are leading us is exactly our criticism of the Conservative and NDP campaigns but what of the Liberals? Nothing. Silence. No “here’s where were going”. No “here’s how were getting there”. Do you think the irony of McGuinty’s statement is lost on him?

This game of election cat and mouse, with none of the parties having the imagination or courage to develop and articulate a real vision, makes the campaign a race for the bottom. This discourages voters because they see right through the political gamesmanship. It makes them cynical and drives them away. So it is no surprise that with each election the turnout rates drop to embarrassing levels, especially among the youngest voters. In the end, the campaign style endorsed by the three leaders trains voters to tune out, which compromises our entire democratic process.

The caution for corporate leaders is if you don’t have a clear and inspiring vision for your company that you are constantly communicating both internally and externally, you may be discouraging your most important stakeholders (e.g. employees, customers, shareholders, board). If you are not dedicating any time and energy to this task, or if your vision is not clear and inspiring, it is probably safe to assume you are actively discouraging your stakeholders! The cost for politicians is the difference between winning and losing. The cost for corporate leaders is diminished profitability, an inability to attract and retain the best talent, a declining share price and potentially a loss of career.

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