Over the course of my career, I’ve had the honor of working for several presidents, cabinet members and many other high-profile politicians. I noticed that the senior staff usually uses several tools to try and control the top guy. Leaking information to journalists is one of the most common and most brutal of them. Almost every White House and many presidential administrations elsewhere had to deal with it.
Another one is overscheduling, sending the president or secretary around the country to events of frankly minor importance. Since some politicians look for instant gratification, they don’t object, even if it is completely exhausting. When the campaign heats up, the principal would typically first lose his or her voice, and then get sick a bit later.
Another weapon is to withhold (bad) news, in particular headlines and survey numbers. As famously said: who tells the emperor that he is not wearing clothes? Or translated to modern times, who tells the president that the race is not close, but that he is actually losing?
In my coaching and consulting, I try to combat all of this. Presidents, cabinet members, lawmakers and governors should not be like lions hunting mice but rather focus on the big things. They should behave like lions hunting antelopes. It takes time to think, read and, reach strategic decisions. In other words, it takes time to govern.
And as for the bad news, I have a simple rule: If you’re a prospect, I might just politely nod through our conversation even if I think you’re completely on the wrong track. As a consultant, my job is not to win any random argument, but to improve my client’s condition. If you’re a client, on the other hand, I will tell you the brutal truth if needed – and then make proactive recommendations on how to move forward.