It’s a Tough Job

October civic elections are fast approach­ing and excitement is in the air. It’s great that many individuals have already stepped forward to run for public office because this offers citizens a choice of who they wish to represent them.

These candidates need to recognize that being an elected official is a challenging job. Yes, the winners will achieve a high profile, but they also need to think about all of the meetings they’ll have to attend and all of the reading that needs to be done so that they have a good understanding of the issues to be dealt with.

And while public officials often receive “beefs and bouquets” from constituents, colleagues and others, they may also be subjected to a lot of unwanted personal abuse.

Politicians need a thick skin. They need a vision for the future, but they also need to be prepared to accomplish this vision through teamwork and a consideration for all of the vested interests of other parties and community stakeholders. Finally, newly elected politicians must also realize that accomplishments take time, sometimes years, so be careful what you promise.

So why do people want to run for political office? Each person typically has a different motivation. For some, it is a desire to contribute back to their community. Still others are running for office because they are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. They may have a personal grudge and feel they can do a better job.

On the other hand, there are candidates who simply love politics, being in the know, making things happen and gaining a level of personal power to change things. There are also candidates who will run because they perceive there are many job perks that can be taken advantage of.

No matter why a candidate is running for political office, they need to seriously consider and appraise their own personal strengths and areas of challenge, their level of self-confidence, their ability to withstand public criticism and their ability to be flexible as they work through the many issues they will confront.

Barbara Bowes

Ideally, in my view, a candidate should be a good speaker — someone who can explain complex issues and inspire and motivate others to follow. They need to have a good sense of responsibility for ensuring that goals and objectives meet the needs of community stakeholders rather than making sure personal needs come first. In other words, they need to focus on the long-term well-being of their community and to have the courage to stand up for what is right.

As well, candidates need to offer a high level of integrity, honesty and transparency. They must not be afraid to provide explanations or to help others understand their position. I am sure most voters would want a politician who can work effectively with a large number of people and in a collaborative rather than combative manner. Finally, I believe a good leader needs to be a coalition builder rather than one who uses coercion and manipulation.

While the candidates are lining up to put their name forward for public office, community members are also lining up with a well-honed checklist that they use to evaluate and determine their candidate of choice. In my view, the following five items should be high on every voter’s checklist:

Leadership experience — To be effective at the higher political levels, voters will be looking for experience in other levels of community democracy. Candidates may have proven experience as a board member for a not-for-profit association, a school board and/or a chamber of commerce. This experience will enable the candidate to make a difference at an earlier date as they will have a basic knowledge of how decisions are made at this level. Community members can easily check out the candidate’s experience though public records.

Interpersonal sincerity — Candidates are always being judged. They are judged by the way they dress, the way they speak and the way they act. And believe me, people are quite adept at interpreting behaviour and creating their own perceptions. They will be watching for a candidate’s ability to demonstrate sincerity and respect for everyone they encounter. Even the slightest verbal or written faux pas can create a negative rather than a positive check mark on the list.

A one trick pony — Candidates who decide to run for office because of their passion for one particular critical issue will soon be confronted by voters who might rather have a representative with a broader interest base. This type of candidate is often perceived as having a lack of flexibility and/or an inability or an unwillingness to support solutions for other issues.

Broad connections — The nature of a candidate’s support is also quickly reviewed by community stakeholders. While some people favour a connection with political parties with specific ideologies, others prefer a candidate with a distinct sense of independence. As well, some candidates come with strong connections to other interest groups that could influence policy decisions in the future and compromise independence. No matter what, this item is often on everyone’s voter checklist.

Problem-solving capabilities — Some candidates think they can make a name for themselves by raising issues and essentially causing problems. However, in most cases, people want to see a problem-solver, someone who shows compassion for another person’s point of view, but also developing a reputation for solving the problems and finding win/win solutions.

While being a politician at any level has an image of fame and glamour, at the same time, many people accuse politicians of not doing real work. However, that is definitely not the case. Much of the work of a politician includes not only research, reading and multiple meetings, but also the real work of meeting and listening to people. And believe me, this is indeed real work.

Our politicians are frequently invited to special events in the evenings and weekends where they meet and greet large numbers of people. In many cases, they attend alone while their family stays at home. If they aren’t at an event, they may well be in their office attending to their many phone calls and concerns.

Being a politician is not an easy job. As a candidate, think carefully about what kind of skills and commitment are necessary to do a good job. From a voter’s perspective, be sure to develop your own recruitment checklist and use it to evaluate the candidates. May the best candidates win.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a Manitoba-based talent management solutions firm. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of the newly released bestseller, Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at [email protected] 

This initially appeared in the September 11, 2010 edition of The Winnipeg Free Press