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Career Lessons From The Bush Win

By Marty Nemko

Bush’s winning is such a surprise. Most Americans opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq, are nervous about the economy, and believe Bush is a pitiful communicator. (“Nucular?” Give me a break.) The media, from Michael Moore to Dan Rather to a bandolier of bestselling Bush-bashing books, has been attacking Bush mercilessly.

Yet Bush won by 3.7 million votes. That improbable success offers career lessons for all of us.

Appeal to the primal. Humans’ first priority is physical safety. Unless we’re sure of that, we won’t be concerned about such issues as civil liberties. Bush recognized that, so his central campaign message was: “You will be safer against terrorism with me.” And exit polls indicated it worked: security was a major reason people voted for Bush.

So, in your career, do what you can to meet people’s elemental needs: security and its correlates: money, health, and love. For example, if you’re a manager, let your supervisees know that, if they’re competent, you’ll do what you can to keep them employed and better paid, and that, on some level, you will love them. Do that and you will have dedicated supervisees. If in contrast, like so many bosses, you focus just on building the bottom line, making your workers feel like replaceable parts, you will be a far less successful manager.

Integrity is crucial. Another centerpiece of Bush’s message was, “John Kerry is a flip-flopper. You may not agree with me, but you can trust that I’ll stick by what I say.” In an era of declining ethics, from Enron-like corporate malfeasance to rampant student cheating, the public longs for a leader they believe they can trust. In your own worklife, yes, dishonesty often pays short-term, but in the end, rock-solid integrity will likely benefit you. And even if it doesn’t, it’s crucial to your feeling like you’ve lived a life well-led.

Build on your strengths rather than try to remediate your weaknesses. In 2000, Al Gore’s Rock-the-Vote effort to get young people to vote failed: only nine percent of voters were 18 to 24. Yet, in 2004, Kerry allocated substantial resources to recruiting young voters. The result was the same: nine percent. In contrast, Bush focused on precincts that voted heavily for him in 2000. In your career, look to what’s worked for you in the past. Do more of that.

To succeed, you needn’t be a great communicator. Most of America knew that Kerry is a better communicator. Yet Bush won. So, if you lack the gift of gab, you can take heart. Present a clear, heartfelt vision and surround yourself with good people and you will likely succeed.

Be aware of what isn’t said. Both candidates scrupulously avoided racial issues: affirmative action, illegal immigration, and taxpayer-funded programs for minorities. But with Bush a conservative and Kerry having the senate’s most liberal voting record, the public had a sense of where the candidates stood on those issues. That’s why, for example, 90% of African Americans voted for Kerry but only 45 percent of whites.

Our views on the unspoken issues are often among our most strongly held. In your worklife, if you can tap into a person’s unspoken beliefs you will probably work more effectively with them. For example, if you’re religious and sense a coworker is too, ask if he or she attends religious services. That could open the door to discussions about faith which, in turn, could build your professional relationship.

Be aware of the Silent Majority. Here in the Bay Area Bubble, many of us believe that most people are liberals: pro affirmative action, pro gay marriage, pro choice, pro illegal immigration, not religious although perhaps spiritual. In fact, many of our co-workers, bosses, customers, and vendors think differently. To be successful in your career, you must avoid assuming, “If I think that way, so must others.”

Go far from the madding crowd. After an election, many job seekers try to jump on the bandwagon: get a job in the new administration or for a company likely to benefit from the new administration such as defense contractors and Big Pharma. The problem is that such job seekers are competing with zillions of others with the same idea. Think contrarian. Go far from the madding crowd. For example, Bush will be gone in 2008. Who will likely be president? My bet’s on Hillary Clinton, a more exciting version of John Kerry. If I wanted to lay the foundation for a powerful career, I’d try to get a job now working for Hillary, while she and her party are out of the spotlight.

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