6 Simple Rules for Political Leadership Success

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Hillary-Clinton

While every woman’s path to achieving political leadership and influencing public policy is different, these rules help women get on the right track, argues Rebecca Sive in this excerpt from “Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide.”

(WOMENSENEWS)– No. 1: Here’s number one: if you want to be a winner, you have to want it really bad. My dear friend, neighbor and longtime mentor Ilana Diamond Rovner, the first female judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, has a simple answer for how she beat all the politically connected men who wanted the same jobs she did. Of course she had to study hard, work harder and make friends with important people who needed her help. But above all, she says, “It comes down to one word: desire.”

She goes on: “And I mean raw desire–pure, raw desire.”

You gotta want it–bad.

No. 2: Rule two is echoed in an article in the October 2012 issue of Vogue entitled “The Voice.” The article profiles Florida member of the U.S. House of Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the first woman to be elected chair of the Democratic National Committee. The profile offers a lot of inspiring material: Wasserman Schultz is a breast cancer survivor who kept her illness a secret because, she says, “I just knew there would be well-meaning people who would decide not to ask me to do things because I was going through cancer. I wanted to decide what I was capable of doing.” She is a mother of three children who nevertheless pays close attention to others’ needs, according to NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who is Wasserman Schultz’s friend and also a breast cancer survivor. But the most telling line is at the article’s end, when author Jacob Weisberg says, “It would be foolish to bet against her.” That’s because of Wasserman Schultz’s work ethic: “I might not always convince you that I’m right, and I might not always win the day or be successful on everything

I set out to accomplish, but I’m never going to lose because I got outworked.”

Politicians may rest a little on the seventh day, but they never really quit. That’s rule number two. You’ve got to outwork the competition.

No. 3: The third rule is that you will have to win the same way men do. When voters pull the lever or when governors or mayors or school-board presidents make an appointment, they are aware of the candidate’s gender. For political reasons of their own or because this female candidate is making history (as so many do), these voters or officials may even choose to stand with the female candidate on the ticket. That kind of consideration might improve your odds, but it won’t be sufficient to win. (Sarah Palin, anyone?) That’s because decision makers give the greatest weight to the case you’ve made. Does your case statement stack up at the top of the pile when it’s compared to others’?

Making great speeches isn’t a substitute for knowing who your voters are and getting them to turn out on Election Day. Believing in worthy causes isn’t a substitute for sensible policy solutions. Learning that “money is the mother’s milk of politics” is a prerequisite. There is no “kinder and gentler” way to win in politics that women have and men don’t. Campaign tactics are uniform, though the group at which they are targeted differs from one campaign to the next. This is the practical fact.

No. 4: There are, however, campaign strategies you can deploy that take into account your understanding of women’s lives. For instance, being a wife or mother might come into play, as can issues that concern women or the unique alliances you can build among women and with other female leaders because of your shared experience. These realities enable female candidates to create campaign messages or organizing and fundraising programs that take gender into account in a winning way. Female candidates can do just what, for instance, African American or Hispanic or Jewish candidates do (and Irish and Italian candidates have done even longer): target their community for special understanding and support. And because our life experience differs from men’s in fundamental ways that are both biological and cultural, there are ways to win that don’t run so much against (female) type that no one will listen to you. You can win with women and for women, and that’s my fourth rule

No. 5: Rule number five: success in politics is not a one-off. It is a marathon, not a sprint. However, only marathoners willing to switch it up occasionally and sprint when necessary will be successful. Consider an unexpected resignation. Consider the special election because an incumbent has died. You need to be ready for opportunities when they present themselves. Get ready for a marathon career, not a race from a standing start. It won’t happen–it never does.

The key to winning an elected or appointed office isn’t staking out positions and advocating for them, regardless of the practical realities of getting those positions adopted. That job is for gadflies and true believers. The most effective female leaders are adept at working with other public leaders because they appreciate the constraints of leadership and know how to work within them to achieve beneficial public ends. The art of politics, whether campaigning or governing, is the art of being practical at almost all costs, including making compromises–big ones. If you can’t handle that kind of thing, pass this book along to your girlfriend who can.

No. 6: In the year Jan Schakowsky, a pro-choice member of the U.S. House of Representatives and past Democratic cochair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, was first elected to Congress, she supported an Illinois gubernatorial candidate who was anti-choice. She asked her supporters to do the same. Most sucked it up and supported him because this particular alliance would enhance Schakowsky’s leadership. Though he didn’t win, Schakowsky’s support did enhance her statewide and subsequent national leadership, including advancing her pro-choice agenda. And she’s been a national leader for more than a decade since. Not a bad trade-off. Rule number six: The process of leading and/or governing will be different from the process of advocating.

Excerpted with permission from “Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House” by Rebecca Sive. Published by Chicago Review Press.

Rebecca Sive is academic director of the Women in Public Leadership program at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy as well as a writer and speaker about women’s political power and strategies for achieving more of it. Visit Sive at: www.rebeccasive.com.

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