Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

10 Lessons politics can teach your business

What did the Romans ever do for us? What can politics ever teach business? We hear a lot about politicians needing to act or work like a business but its equally true that if you look deeply you can learn some valuable lessons for politics that can be applied to any business, especially if you are starting out…

Lesson 1 – Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

If Politics has taught us anything it’s that politicians love making promises in the desperate hunt for votes but that they often end up paying dearly for these. For any business it is a cautionary tale. When we are desperate for some sales or some revenue it is often tempting to promise anything and everything and to get so focussed on landing the client that we wrap ourselves up in knots to please them. Just remember that at some point you will have to deliver and if it proves beyond your capability or resources you will have a very disappointed client who will probably not wish to work with you again.

Lesson 2 – You need friends, avoid isolation

It can be tempting for political parties to attack everyone else, but the reality is that when it comes to counting the votes you will need transfers from somewhere. Therefore, you need friends. Fianna Fail lost many an election due to being the enemy of all. SF is stagnant in the high teens in polls partially because they are obsessed with serving in government alone and winning overall majorities, they want no friends. Equally in business it’s easy to become stagnant and limited in what you can offer. It’s important to be open to new ideas and to working and co-operating with others in order to give a better offering to customers. Networking is a key part of this and it is vital that any small business does not find itself trying to do everything alone.

Lesson 3 – Organisation is everything

Successful political parties and campaigns are all based on solid organisation where each piece knows what it is doing. A business must have the same approach, it must have clearly divided tasks where people know exactly what they are meant to do, it must have routes of supply and to market that are free of complication and confusion.

Lesson 4 – The value of communication

In politics you will fail completely if you are unable to communicate. Voters need to know and understand your message. A customer of any business needs to hear from that business. Customers need information and they must be able to understand the benefit of your product or service. The difference it makes to their lives must be communicated or just like a voter they will get apathetic very quickly.

Lesson 5 – Trust is key

For all the talk of ideology and policy in politics, the majority of people remain open to changing their mind on a topic or changing their opinion given the right arguments. However, crucial to that is whether you trust the politician. If you do then you are far more likely to hear their message and take it on board, if you don’t then you are likely to immediately oppose whatever they say. A politician who has lost trust is a lame duck. If you are in business and a customer trusts you then they will come back. They will be likely to try different products or services and most importantly to take your advice. Trust is earned over time and must be proven time and time again but it should be highly valued.

Lesson 6 – Doing what’s right

Now in politics this is the hardest argument to get across. The idea of being decisive and doing what you believe. It sounds simple but it is far from it in politics. This is because many politicians measure success by longevity rather than what they actually do. Noel Browne was not Health Minister for very long, but he is well remembered and respected? Why is that? Sean Lemass had a shorter term than De Valera or Lynch but compare the legacy, Bertie Ahern lasted much longer than Albert Reynolds yet which would you rather be for a day walking down the street? In business the answer comes easier. You do not stay in a business that is failing and losing money just because you want to say you did it for 20 years. You need to be decisive to make it work and survive. Doing what you believe right has been proven time and time again in business where belief in a project and the right skills has built empires. Just like in politics there is no point compromising just because it seems easy, you have to believe in a project and you have to know in your own mind that you are comfortable with it.

Lesson 7 – Don’t b blinded to faults

Political parties have a tough battle to always argue their case against opponents. When you are in the sphere it is important to always keep putting the best face out and defending the position. However the problem is that people can become blind. Saying you reject your opponents attack should not be the same as not heeding it. One of the great weaknesses that enter any political organisation is the inability to heed criticism and advice instead dismissing it as just people being biased against you. To be successful in politics you must heed such criticism and act to rectify it whatever else is said. When a customer or a competitor is pointing out a weakness in our business it is tempting to dismiss their claim or to get insulted by it. This doesn’t work. You have to ask yourself why an opponent might feel they are able to make such a claim or ask why a customer feels criticism is valid. Even if you disagree then you must deal with the perception. Always accept that any business will have faults and once they are pointed out you can deal with them and improve.

Lesson 8 – Never believe your own hype

Selling a message in politics is not easy. In order to get it across against constant attack it sometimes requires you to use hyperbole and fantastic claims. ‘If only you elect us everything will be perfect’, ‘’Things are only this bad because the other fellas are so corrupt and self cantered or incompetent, decent guys like us wont make such errors’. That’s paraphrasing the message we hear, the problem is you can never afford to really believe it. IF you fail to rate your opponents or think that the matter is ever so simple then you are in for a nasty shock. Selling a product or service can involve the same thing; it can mean we tell people constantly why we are better than our competitors and why our product is so revolutionary. That’s fine, but don’t start believing the hype that nobody else can do what you do or lose respect for rivals. If you do you will make some serious errors.

Lesson 9 – Get the right team and Advice

Governments and political parties have a huge range of things that they need to keep their eye on. A politician or a Taoiseach is only as good as the team they are able to assemble. One great person with a poor team is useless. You must surround yourself with capable people who know what they are doing. Often overlooked of course is the need to avoid groupthink and have people there who are not afraid to challenge you or to stand up to you. Business should follow the same rule, you need good people working with you, people you can trust and know that they will do their job. Good accountants, good lawyers and other external advisers are also important. Never be afraid of the person who challenges you and debates with you on a decision, you will face those questions from your public anyway so best to have someone who can do it and is on your side first.

Lesson 10 – Enjoy it

Working in politics is often stressful and can take a big toll on your life. The people who do it accept this because the love the work. It’s called having the political ‘bug’. Its hard to explain but it means people give up an extraordinary amount of voluntary time at the bottom and at the top, despite the stresses and strains and constant attacks that few other jobs carry (with less pay than many such jobs would offer) the politicians still want to do it. The cynical will say it’s for power or personal gain, but whatever it’s for it is clear that those involved like doing what thy do. Once they stop enjoying it its easy to seem them become grumpy, unhappy and increasingly unpopular. If you are in business or starting a business it can sap a lot of life out of you and take up huge time, arguments and problems are always there. However, once you enjoy it you will be good at it, the effort is not quite so much of a sacrifice and service with a smile always tells.


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