Although I’m not politically active any more, I used to be and some of my friends still are—legislators, a mayor, campaign managers…
People whose involvement in their government is limited to casting votes once in a while often look down on politicians and seem to think everyone in politics is pond scum. Although it may be hard to believe in the midst of the USA’s 2016 Presidential campaign, that isn’t true. Like any other human endeavor, politics has some good people in it and some dreadful people in it.
Way back when, I got to see enough to learn to recognize good ones. They are just as rare as good leadership anywhere else—how many good bosses have you known? It’s very hard being who they are because their motivation is genuine dedication to the good of the public, and so many people refuse to believe it.
For examples, I’ll stick with some who are no longer in office.
- Barbara Jordan in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the very first election after I was old enough to vote, I had the privilege of voting for her. One of her students later described Jordan’s voice as sounding like “the voice of God.” I know what she meant. Listening to Jordan speak, I always had the sense that I was hearing The Voice of Truth.
- Eleanor Tinsley on the Houston City Council. She didn’t care about factions or power or infighting. She simply cared about and tirelessly worked to improve Houston.
- Ann Richards, who as State Treasurer for Texas modernized the way the state handles its money and in doing so quickly cut a recession-driven budget shortfall by millions. The Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin reports, “Richards made more money for the state of Texas than all previous Texas Treasurers combined.” Then she became Governor and, among other things, got state government onto the Internet before other states were even thinking about it. Texas state government still makes more advanced and sophisticated use of the Web than other states (and many countries).
My friends in politics have that kind of heart, but the Arizona shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords made going to work even more obviously an act of courage than usual. One of them, a state legislator, said at the time:
“The shootings have everyone on edge. We had already upped the security […] based on some scary folks who seem to be hanging out there. We have a ‘watch list’ which is scary in itself. Having an elevated profile […] doesn’t help in that regard but it sure does help elevate the issues about which I care. And I hope you know me well enough that I am not reading the good- or bad-press. Staying focused and grounded is my goal and not getting swept up in the hype.”
That was in the States. This summer, in the UK where I live now and where people like to say we don’t have such a “gun problem,” Member of Parliament Jo Cox was shot and killed in the final days of the high-tension EU referendum campaign. By all accounts, she was one of those rare politicians trying to do some good.
What’s my point?
Because so many of my readers are in business, let’s stick with what it means for business.
Any business person knows it isn’t just whether you make a bundle this year, it’s whether you made it in such a way that people will want to come back for at least as much next year and the year after. How you go about your business is terribly important.
No matter how the USA’s Presidential election turns out, the campaign will damage the country at many levels for many years ahead, much like the Brexit campaign has done lasting damage to the UK. (We’ll stick with these two examples and not go into certain other countries’ recent referendums that are similarly crucial.) Anyone has to think twice about putting themselves forward for office when hatred and violence run loose in the streets. Such a toxic atmosphere drives the best people away from the frightening exposure needed to do such work.
It also discourages some businesses from putting any more of their jobs in the country than the minimum necessary. When the atmosphere becomes too toxic, some businesses will leave entirely. So will some of the best workers, people with the most valuable skills who know any country would be foolish to turn them away. Departure of some of the best and brightest makes it that much harder for businesses that stay.
Which side wins the elections is only part of what we all need to care about, including business executives. How the elections happen matters as much as how you conduct your business.
These elections have stirred up an environment that is bad for business.
Bringing the environment back around to something good for business will require long term effort by everyone. By you, through your daily contact with employees and customers. By neighborhoods gluing their communities back together where campaign rhetoric has caused rifts. By people in general, insisting on general decency, sticking up for anyone they see being hounded.
When political campaigns go as this year’s have gone, the election is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of the cleanup we have to do to get our businesses and our communities back on an even keel. An awful lot of us have an awful lot of cleanup to do.