Politics as Management

Imagine that to win commitment and passion from their workers, business leaders used tactics similar to those used by today’s politicians to win votes. The results would be awful. Companies do not become successful by polarizing one part of the business against another. Corporations need discussion, debate, and freedom to disagree without moral sanction before the best decisions can be achieved.

Today’s politicians, on all sides, do not seem to have learned this key lesson. Instead, many engage in emotional manipulation by mis-using psychological principles. The electorate becomes polarized.

Each of us has a primitive part of the brain, the amygdala, which is sometimes called the reptile brain. Its job is to look for threats to our survival. When it perceives a threat, it floods us with adrenalin to prepare us for fight or flight.

The reptile brain has little capacity for logic. Logic is not a major consideration when trying to save ourselves from a saber-toothed tiger, the kind of threat the reptile brain is designed to handle. Black and white thinking facilitates survival against immediate physical threat. There is no need for philosophical discussions with a tiger about alternative points of view or shared interests.

Today’s politicians, and many in the media, have mastered the ability to inflame listeners’ reptile brains, by-passing logic and thoughtfulness. They use the tactics of black and white absolutes, judgmental statements, ridicule, and sarcasm. Their side is the bastion of truth, justice, and the American Way. Opponents are portrayed as stupid and a danger to our way of life, not as intelligent people who happen to see the world a bit differently. As if dealing with tigers, there are few efforts to integrate different perspectives into creative solutions. Politicians dare not acknowledge that the other side has a point. Doing so courts vote loss, or what you might call market share.

Looking for leaders to trust, people get caught up in the rhetoric. Their reptile brains respond to false or exaggerated dangers that many politicians identify, rather than engaging the thoughtful parts of their brains. It is more emotionally satisfying to see the world in absolute terms than to acknowledge the complex problems that exist in the world. But, emotional satisfaction does not solve those problems. We should save mindless passions for football, not allow them to try to run our country.

The best business decisions get made when everyone takes the trouble to examine each other’s ideas respectfully. You, with your marketing background, might not agree with what finance says, but you know that castigating finance as stupid is destructive. Instead you craft your marketing efforts in ways that satisfy concerns raised by finance. As a result, you develop an approach that best serves the entire company. (Sinking part of a boat sinks the whole boat.)

Politicians say that polarized debates lead to compromise. Compromise is often a second rate solution. Business needs integrated, creative thinking that is responsive to the complicated needs of business leaders, employees, stockholders, customers, vendors, and the community at large. Companies do best when they find ways for all stakeholders to win.

Rather than run business like politics, imagine that the public demanded that politicians approach problems like a successful business, through thoughtfulness and concern for all constituencies, rather than attempts to inflame our emotions. As long as we allow our reptile brains to be manipulated, our politicians will not learn to approach us more maturely. It’s up to us.

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D., founder and CEO of EQ Leader, Inc., helps individuals and companies solve problems and build skills. He can be reached at (540) 774-1927, or by e-mail at dana.ackley@eqleader.net.

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.

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