How to Lead like a Politician in 3 Easy Steps


Can the phrase “great leadership” be automatically applied to today’s politicians? It’s not an easy question to answer but I personally like to think it’s something they all aspire to. Why? Because great leadership is, quite simply, a requirement of their role. They represent a large number of people (typically measured in the tens or hundreds of thousands) and they must accommodate many different interests that are usually represented by many different stakeholder groups. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Ed Fast speak. Ed is an MP, a lawyer by trade, the current Environment and Climate Change Critic and the former Minister of International Trade. In his previous role, Ed was responsible for the Government of Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan, the most ambitious and successful trade plan in Canada’s history. Under that plan, Ed oversaw the conclusion of negotiations on historic trade agreements with the European Union, South Korea, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With his impressive credentials, governance experience, and solid reputation, Ed’s insight was welcomed by all. He left us with three great pieces of advice on leadership that I believe are critical for anyone in either life or business.

1. Demonstrate Servant Leadership.

A great leader doesn’t focus on being a great leader. Instead, he/she focuses on a) serving the people in their sphere of influence and b) doing what’s right with others’ best interests at heart. That’s not easy to do when you represent so many different people who have strong views on what they think is the best way forward. Making the hard calls are what leaders have to do but, when you make those decisions with a servant’s heart, it’s much easier.

2. Focus on the Important.

Leaders are constantly bombarded with great opportunities they could pursue. As a politician, Ed reminded us, you only have a limited time frame. (For an MP, it’s 4 years to be exact.) Therefore, he said, you have to be selective. Focus your limited time and resources on the opportunities and projects that you believe will yield the greatest results for your company. Keep your mission and objectives top-of-mind and learn when it’s a good time to say a “political no” to distractions.

3. Know WHEN and HOW.

The hard part of politics or strategic planning is not in knowing WHAT to do but rather WHEN and HOW to do it. Ed used the botched HST rollout in BC as a prime example. Any economist would say that the HST was the right policy for the province, but the government mishandled both the timing and rollout process which – as we all know – led to the referendum and subsequent canceling of the program. Ed’s advice: entrepreneurs and leaders must keep their enthusiasm in check and be more strategic about when and how they pursue new programs, projects or endeavors.

Three easy to remember, easy to apply pieces of advice from a guy who’s lived them. They’re ones that we can use daily and, with a bit of practice, perhaps we, too, can learn to lead like a politician.

Have a great day!

– Braden