Before the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, most American millennials weren’t interested in running for public office.
Rutgers University assistant professor of political science Shauna Shames conducted research about millennials’ disinterest in running for public office in 2014, and found that while they had a wide range of reasons, from the time it would take away from their career to the intense media scrutiny many candidates endure, the vast majority didn’t want to enter politics.
Similarly, while doing research for their book, Running from Office: Why Young Americans Are Turned Off from Politics, authors Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox found that 89% of millennials never wanted their name on a ballot.
But since Donald Trump was elected president, Shames says there has been a sea change in millennials’ attitudes about running for office. The group Run for Something was launched in January 2017 to encourage young people to run. The organization signed up more than 8,000 members who are interested in launching campaigns.
Suddenly, millennials are looking past the significant financial, time, and other investments. Shames, the author of Out of the Running: Why Millennials Reject Political Careers and Why it Matters, says some are concerned that running for and holding office could take away time from their career development. In addition, they’re overcoming what Shames calls the “ick factor”—heavy scrutiny, opposition research, and possible smear campaigns—to make a difference.
But for those who do see through their goals and run for office, they’re getting a master class in how to be a better business leader, says Linda Goldstein, president of Linda Goldstein Consulting, LLC. She was the first woman mayor of Clayton, Missouri, and held the office for 14 years, working in commercial construction before she dipped her toe into politics. She says the education she got in defining a campaign strategy, communicating with various audiences quickly, and fending off competitors was similar to business demands, but often in a more intensive and fast-paced way. Running for office can build a number of important skills that will make you a better business leader.
Whether you’re trying to win a political office or a promotion, you’ve got to convince people to invest something in you. You may be asking for their vote or donation during a campaign. You need those same skills to convince a supervisor that you’re ready for a bigger role or to land a power mentor who can help your career.
“Politics is really a popularity contest,” says Amanda Litman, founder of Run for Something. “Being able to convince people to like you, to then trust you, to have credibility with them, will help you get things done for the voters and for your constituents.”
Recognize The Value Prop
As a candidate, you’ve got to discuss the value of what you want to do—the “what’s in it for me” factor that your constituents want to know. It’s the same way you would sell a big project or proposal, Shames says. “To be forced to think about the strategy of appealing to people and their incentive and their motivations, all of that is really similar [to the business world]. The more that you are forced to do that, the better for young people, especially,” she says.
When you enter the political arena, there are people who are going to immediately dislike you, says Andrew Shecktor, a longtime politician who is running for one of Pennsylvania’s Senate seats in 2018. For people who may not have thick skin, this can be particularly distressing.
Shecktor says that dynamic has helped him speak his mind more boldly since he doesn’t have to worry about pleasing everyone. “You’re never gonna please everybody,” he says.
Motivate And Delegate
As a candidate, your time is one of your most precious resources—you simply can’t do everything yourself, says Litman. That means you need to convince people to do things for you, often on a volunteer basis. Then, you need to delegate tasks to them and trust them to get the job done, she says. Delegation is tough for many people who get nervous about handing off responsibility. In a campaign, you have no choice. It teaches you to become a pro at motivating people to do things for you.
Open New Opportunities
While Goldstein was meticulous in not mixing her business with her office while she held it, the skill set she gained ultimately paid off in other ways. Because she knows about the inner workings of local government, she launched a consulting firm that helps businesses and government offices run more effectively. It also let her stay connected to the local government about which she feels so passionately.
“You can make a real difference in local government,” she says.