When we think of the concept of campaigning we often think of leaders standing on a platform heralding their unique virtues. We think of the old days of jumping from train station to train station–kissing babies, eating cheeseburgers, and watching a late night movie in the hotel room while reviewing tomorrow’s meetings.
And that’s exactly what campaigning is: long, hard, work. Ask anyone who has walked through the snows of Iowa or been caught in an ice storm in New Hampshire on a campaign trail. But campaigning is more than that–it’s also a state of mind that essentially starts with a focused goal and the knowledge that you need to get people on your side in order to accomplish it.
Leaders in any setting enter a campaign mode when they have a focused direction which they understand cannot be achieved without rallying others to their position. The backbone of any campaign are the tactics that underline a leaders capacity to get people on their side.
Of late we’ve been rallying around the notion of change–change we can believe in, change for our times, change for our organization, change for the 21st century, and the list goes on–change is all over the place. In academia we talk about leading for change. Well, what other type of leadership is there–leading for holding things constant? Leading for doing nothing?
As political scientists pointed out years ago–leadership implies action or lack of action, it implies change or lack of change, as its focal point. This implies that the critical skills for change leadership is having the capacity to bring people to your position–it implies the capacity to enhance coalitions, lead them, and sustain them.
Point in fact, change leaders are running campaigns and this demands a vigilant attention to micro-skills that will keep people in your corner. It will demand immense interaction skills, superb negotiation skills, and yes, even in the work place–a cheeseburger or two.
Staying in a campaign mode is indeed exhausting–while you may not have to trek in icy New Hampshire a certain degree of awareness, a certain calculation, indeed a healthy bit of paranoia, is necessary.
So if you want to look to individuals who have led change don’t just look to Bill Clinton–look to his campaign manager Jim Carville. Don’t just look to George W. Bush–look at Ken Mehlman. Don’t just look at Barack Obama–look at David Plouffe.