Friday, November 7, 2008

Lessons from a historical campaign

It's been three days since Obama's victory and I am hardly recovering from the excitement and Obamania around the election day. The world seems to have changed so much in these three days. There is hope and spirit of "change" in the air. Change was evident in the elections: Traditional red states turned blue. There was a record turnout of young voters across America. Thousands and thousands of volunteers worked with passion for campaigning for Obama. Obama's victory was their victory.

Having lived in the United States a little over three years, I have not really been a part of previous election campaigns and was unaware of the drama that goes during the entire time during the presidential campaigns--the debates, the commercials, the SNL spoofs, the tours, the controversies, the media. I am not a republican or a democrat or even an independent. But I am indeed fortunate to witness this historical campaign. And to be able to study one of the best campaigns fought in the history of American politics.

I was intrigued by Jack Welch's recent remarks on CNBC about President-Elect Obama. He said, "Obama has run his campaign like a business. Every manager in the world should learn and study his campaign to succeed in business." Hmm. What principles can business leaders learn from Obama's campaign?

First, of course, is the extraordinary leadership. Business success is largely dependent of leadership of the management and there is little doubt that Obama will be mentioned in the history books as one of the finest leaders who was able to unite and rally America at one of its most difficult times. Like an entrepreneur, he surprised and beat his opponents every way by innovative strategies. He went into states where Democrats never went. He tapped millions of dollars using the power of technology. He defined reality for the American people, that the journey is not going to be easy. Yet, without demotivating them. There is no secret now that America and few of the global economies will be in recession for the next year and if Obama can instill hope among people, cross traditional barriers to get things done and can unite and rally people to work together, it will be the most important contribution his presidency can offer. It is such extraordinary leadership of top management that defines how a business fights or concedes in challenging situations.

Next comes the power of strategic communications. When polls showed the economy is top on the minds of voters, Obama effectively talked about key economic issues. He understood his stakeholders, the voters. During crisis, (Rev Wright) Obama did not shy away from the issues raised. Rather, he came out and addressed it directly and honestly, without wasting any time. His speech on race not only helped calm the issues, it also increased his respect among voters. This was another example of his exemplary leadership. His speeches brought hope and inspiration for the millions. The more time passed, the more credibility he earned by straightforward, inspiring and candid communication.

In our Strategic Communications class, I learned the importance of framing, mental structures that are triggered by language and words. Framing is key to strategic and persuasive communications. If facts fit the frame, facts stick. But if facts don't fit the frame, the frame remains and facts bounce off. Whoever controls the frame, controls the outcome. This is better understood by studying Obama's classic and shrewd campaign. Obama's frame was 'change.' With that theme, he reinforced his messages that stuck with the frame and persuaded voters. (changes in healthcare, change in tax plans, foreign policy etc). McCain, on the other hand, failed to have a frame that he could own. Even some of the facts that McCain talked about Obama, like William Ayers, never stuck to the original frame of 'change' controlled by Obama.

Finally, Obama's use of technology in this year's "YouTube election" will also offer many guiding principles for generations of campaigners to come. His grassroots support and ground game was at the core of his victory over old, seasoned democrats like Hillary Clinton and later, against John McCain. And this grassroots support came by leveraging technology--websites, online social networks, youtube etc. From creating buzz, marketing, advertising, fund-raising, volunteer network and relationship building, online tools helped Obama achieve historical milestones in this campaign. (e.g. victory in Iowa). The world of communications is "democratized" today and businesses have no option but to change their traditional, old models of management and open up two-way communications. Technology is powerful and if harnessed properly, it can do wonders for the business.

I was reading Obama's blog and learned that he sent a message to all his online supporters before heading out to Grant Park for his victory speech. It was a short note of gratitude for their support. He has created another website, for Americans to read about his policies, provide feedback and write about issues that are important to them. It will be interesting to see if Obama can make the Government processes transparent and open for people by using technology. And like the feedback section on his new website, if he really intends to engage and listen to people in policy-making, it will be an iconic shift from the way government runs in Washington.

Obama's masterful and almost flawless execution of his campaign and his ultimate victory serve as great example for business leaders. Here is a leader that has rallied almost entire world by powerful, honest and inspiring communications that is really required in today's cluttered world.

Of course, the big question still remains--whether Obama can govern as well as he can speak. Nevertheless, the way Obama has campaigned for two years tells a lot about his intellectual prowess. I am sure better times are yet to come.


Farida said...

Good going, Khyati!!

Farida said...

if you click on my name you will see a link to a blog that i set up months ago but never quite got started with!!! so congratulations to you for starting one and writing religiously! :)

Tausha said...

Khyati! I didn't know you started a new blog! I'm adding you to my list of blogs to read. Hope to see you son!

Roe said...

Khyati... great post! I'm happy to see you have a blog up and going. It's interesting to see an outsiders view on the craziness of elections.