Politicians and trust

Politicians and trust

Most of the time, I hesitate to bring up any type of political matter here, unless there is a compelling storytelling angle to examine. Interestingly, though, each time that I do write something touching on politics, it seems to elicit numerous and forceful reactions.

As such, the last post was indeed true on both counts. Despite my original hesitation, writing something about the coming US presidential election generated spirited reactions.

As always, I feel the need to be completely clear on this aspect: I wrote about Joe Biden’s campaign not to make a political statement but rather to comment on the lack of personal story in his discourse. A number of people who contacted me wanted to express their opinions, either for or against Mr Biden. While I do not see it as my role to take a side, it was gratifying to hear that many readers were also curious about precisely why I think Joe Biden should use more personal storytelling.

One reader told me that she was a Biden supporter, and she thought that the best way for him to win the election might be to stay as quiet as possible. While she may have a good point in this particular year and its unprecedented circumstances, the argument I wish to make about personal narrative applies to politics in a more general way.

When I do observe political campaigns, as I have done in a small way these past months, I listen to the discourse of all the participants. And, I often think about how I would advise them if I were their coach. Of course, I have my own bias toward emphasizing strategies that have worked for my business clients. In virtually every case, I see clearly that I would encourage the candidates to use their personal stories of identity more prominently in their efforts to influence voters.

In fact, I have come to see the situation of many politicians as similar to that of my clients, at least in one very crucial way. Both groups seek to influence others by building trust.

In my career, I have consulted for a wide variety of organizations and coached hundreds of entrepreneurs. Among the times these people tend to call on me most is when they are looking to raise money, either in a start-up phase or with later-round investors.

When I listen to people’s presentations or help them prepare for meetings with potential investors, there is indeed one single piece of advice that I have applied in an overwhelming number of cases: “You should be focusing far less on your business model and strategies, and far more on expressing who you are and what you stand for. When you talk about your team, as well, talk about who they are rather than how technically expert they are, or how well they perform.”

Now, whenever I say or write such things, I must clarify my statements a bit. I do not mean to say that we should not tell investors about our business models, or about the competencies of the extraordinary people we have engaged in our enterprise. Rather, what I tell clients is that every entrepreneur today is capable of writing a convincing business plan that speaks to those elements. What their discourse often lacks are stories that show examples of their character.

Professional investors see presentations and read business plans every day. And, I would venture to say that every one they see presents an optimistic view of why the company will be an outstanding place to invest money.

So, how can these individuals evaluate the many entrepreneurs they listen to, when each one is presenting a credible path to prosperity? Experience has taught me that the most successful investors will evaluate the quality of the people in the story at least as much as they make judgements about marketing plans or strategies.

People who invest in you want to see that you have the determination to navigate the difficult times, that you will be able to overcome the obstacles you will face along the road toward survival and success. They ask themselves, “Do I believe that this person and this team will persevere when the going is truly tough? Will they exercise good judgement when faced with the dilemmas that every organization must face?” It is by demonstrating such characteristics that entrepreneurs persuade stakeholders to trust them.

While the realm of politics is not entirely comparable to that of business or entrepreneurship, there is at least one important similarity. Whether we are trying to convince an investor or a voter, the most significant relationship we can build is a relationship of trust.

Next time, I’ll go into more detail on how personal storytelling would help a candidate such as Joe Biden foster trust with the voting public.



Image: Flickr user Biah