While the 2020 race for president is in high gear, many local political clubs and party committees are just now ramping up, starting to recruit and support 2020 candidates for Congress, state legislature, city council and many more down-ballot races.
Whether or not you’ve thought about running for office, many of the traits that tend to make successful politicians are also skills that can be applied to advancing your career. We recently discussed the importance of political networking, but there are additional skills that can be assets in both the political and business arenas.
Since women have been in the workforce, they’ve been told it’s important to have a skill to fall back on “if things don’t work out.” This advice was often passed along from mother to daughter, from mentor to mentee. Fifty years ago, that advice would have been along the lines of “learn how to type – a good secretary is always needed.” Thirty years ago, it was “get your teaching certificate and you will always have something to fall back on.” Ten years ago, it was “get a law degree.”
Thankfully, for the most part, women are no longer pigeon-holed to these stereotypes. However, there is a little wisdom in this thinking that should be adhered to: hone a particular ability – a skill of strength – keep it fresh and updated, even if you may not use it. Here are three skills we recommend you focus on and develop. Whether you run for office or not, they will certainly come in handy.
1. Public speaking
We wanted to tackle this first, because speaking in front of audiences is often what scares people the most when considering a run for public office. Fear of public speaking can deter some of the most ideal candidates from seeking office (which is a shame!) There is no sugar coating it, this is a tough one to learn. Practice is key and while it rarely becomes easy, once you get past the first few times it does become less daunting.
We each had a similar – and frankly awful – experience when making our first television appearance. That first time involved sweaty palms, dry mouth and stumbling over words, and saying afterward, “I don’t think I can ever do this again.” And yet, we did it again – and again and again. And it became easier and easier.
Here’s what we suggest; first, practice out loud, by yourself and in front of a mirror. Keep practicing until you feel comfortable speaking in front of a family member, colleague or friend (the dog does not count). As soon as you can, start speaking in front of small groups. It doesn’t have to be a formal speech per say; start with a few prepared comments that you want to make at a meeting or community event. Then, just keep doing it. This skill will help you throughout your career, and it may even increase your paycheck.
Susan’s experience: Even though I had appeared on local television for a few years, I’ll never forget when I was first asked to appear on MSNBC. I was nervous and wasn’t sure if I could do it. I punted and said I needed to check my schedule. I sat at my desk and said aloud to no one, “Being afraid is not a good excuse to say ‘no.’” Ultimately, I said ‘yes,’ and while shaking inside, I was able to make it through.
2. Writing clear and persuasively
Another important skill is being able to express your opinions in writing. Often, we see politicians writing an op-ed and laying out their positions on an issue. This is a great way to get your ideas and plans into a public space. It is also a great way to become an influencer in your community on issues you feel strongly about, and to keep your writing skills fresh.
Consider submitting your own opinion piece to a local publication or community paper on a topic that is important to you. By doing this, you will learn how to organize your thoughts in a clear and persuasive manner. This style of writing can also come in handy when you are negotiating a promotion or looking for a raise.
Adrienne’s experience: When I was in college (well over 20 years ago) I became extremely frustrated by what I considered to be an overtly sexist column written by the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette regarding then-First Lady of the United States Hillary Clinton. In a moment of haste and frustration I wrote what I intended to be a letter to the editor, but it turned into a 500 word op-ed. I sent this into the newspaper and within a few days they ran the piece as the lead op-ed. Even though I was in college and no one knew my name, I still used my voice. To the publication’s credit, they ran with the piece.
3. Having an updated networking list
Finally, a key component of being prepared to run for office or being successful in business is making sure your contact and networking lists are current. (Yes ladies, those holiday card lists can have an entirely new purpose!) Reviewing your contact list once a year is a fantastic way to network and reconnect with people. In politics, it’s also a great way to announce that you are running for office and can help raise your initial seed money. If you don’t have a contact list, start one. A great way to start is with your holiday card list, scrolling your phone contacts or collecting names from your social media accounts.
Adrienne: Case in point. When a good friend of mine decided to run for Congress in 2017, she naturally worried about how to raise the initial round of funding to launch her candidacy. Fortunately she had a massive holiday card list that she diligently kept updated over the years. Within a week of calling through that list, she had raised plenty of resources to not just get her campaign started, but to also ensure she had strong showing on her first FEC report.
So, whether you are thinking about running for office, kind of thinking about it, or want to reserve the right to run for office someday, there are a few small steps you can take in the interim to better prepare yourself to do so. You never know when the time might be right. Women were inspired in record numbers to run for office after pivotal moments such as the 2016 presidential election, the #MeToo movement and after lawmakers failed to take action in the wake of multiple mass shootings.
Should you decide your time is right, we hope these small steps will help you become even better prepared to seize your moment.
Susan Del Percio is a New York-based Republican strategist and Adrienne Elrod is a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist. Their column, "Politicking for Success" appears weekly on NBC News' Know Your Value.