Why politicians makes lousy salespeople

Can politicians keep their promises? For the most part our history tells us the answer is no.

Former prime minister John Howard’s un-prophetic words, “there’s no way a GST will ever be part of our policy” and Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s more recent declaration, “there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” echoes this point.

The political end game is vastly more important than the substance of their campaign. You can do more in power than you can without it. So whatever the game needs to be to gain office — will soon be replaced with whatever game needs to be played to retain it. 

Politicians are true masters of manipulation. Almost everything they communicate is crafted, scripted, and designed to promote their party agenda or self interests. Laced with subtle undercurrents and bolstered with overtones, you never hear anything the politician doesn’t want you to hear.

Listen to Julia Gillard speak and she’ll soon put you to sleep. Monotonic and measured, any hope of hearing what she truly believes is lost in the script. Tony Abbott’s not too dissimilar, albeit flying a flag that needs to be different to offer the punters a contrast.

Kevin Rudd has a tad more flair and is prepared to appear more human. But you get a sense that “wifey’’ is the person really pulling the strings. ‘Kevin 07’ had his shot and blew it. Politics is a ruthless game and a rare industry. Can you think of another industry that allows you to be sacked or resign and retain your employment? What a certain and lucid way to build a toxic culture.

There’s a distinctive rigidity to the way politicians speak. Their expression feels unnatural, often awkward, and in ways unhuman; and that’s their first mistake. For someone to truly influence us, we must first relate to them.

Malcolm Turnbull springs to mind as someone who possesses a sturdy grasp of the English vernacular. Yet he relates to a minority; the silvertail, upper class. Indeed charming at times, he also omits a smugness that will limit his ability to gain any real broad influential traction.  

In contrast, ex-prime minister Bob Hawke was as rough as guts! This emblematic Aussie larrikin connected with the Australian public at the right time. We’ve since evolved beyond the cowboy eighties. Today this type of bravado comes across as unpolished and ill-equipped to drive a system of governance that demands more than ever.

Barack Obama charmed the American public and indeed the world. Noticeably scripted in his dialogue and delivery, he carried the hopes and aspirations of millions. Despite his messiah-like persona, he has still failed to live up to expectation. Keeping your word is a tough gig in a challenging economy and an ever-changing world. 

The glaring distinction between politicians and salespeople is that a salesperson’s success is principally determined by their ability to keep their promises: This same mandate rarely applies to politicians.

The key to building trust is your ability to keep a promise. In addition, it requires toning down your commitments so they are sometimes ambitious, but always attainable. If your customers are demanding you set unrealistic goals and construct promises that are dubious (so they support you) then perhaps you need to consider; is this really the type of customer you want to be contributing to?

As a person of influence in any field, you gain genuine support by being real, adding tangible value, demonstrating empathy, and keeping your word, even if it hurts you. Until politicians and powerbrokers are willing to live by these virtues, we will all continue to be disenchanted and let down by them. With influence comes power and with power comes responsibility. Dont abuse it.


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