Posted by: Brandon W. Jones | January 6, 2012

Leadership Lessons From the Iowa Caucus

As the Iowa caucus came to a close the results were so close that only eight votes separated the top two candidates.  It was the closest presidential GOP contest in U.S. history and Mitt Romney came out as the winner.  The close finish made me ask questions about what factors led to the resulting eight vote difference.  Because it is politics, there were many factors that led to a close finish, but I am going to look at just a few that relate to leadership.

To understand the leadership implications, we must first look at the background.  In 2008, Mitt Romney was the runner-up in the Iowa republican caucus.  Since then, he has maintained a high level of support with relatively minimal effort.  Because of this support, he did a limited amount of campaigning until the last three weeks prior to the caucus.  On the other hand, Rick Santorum spent a lot of time and effort doing door-to-door campaigning.  Santorum had a lot of people on the ground representing him.  He also held many meetings with the citizens of Iowa.  These two methods of connecting with the people helped Santorum gain a lot of support.  While Santorum and Romney took these approaches, the other candidates were fighting amongst themselves and losing supporters in the process.  Many of those supporting the other candidates began supporting Santorum in the final weeks prior to the election as a result of the fighting amongst the other candidates.

So what leadership lessons can we learn from this?  Each of the candidates had different voters (customers) that they had to appeal to in order to gain their support.  They also had representatives (supporters) that pled their case to the other voters (customers).  As leaders, you will have customers and supporters.  In your position as the leader, you need to understand the importance of each group and how to best work with them.

Customers As leaders it is very important to keep your customers happy.  Your customers can be your employees, coworkers, other businesses, the general public, or any other group you are trying to please.  Leaders won’t be able to please all their customers all the time, but they should do their very best to please as many as possible.  Without the support of the customers, leaders may be able to obtain short-term success, but they will not be able to maintain long-term success.  It is essential that leaders identify the customer expectations and either meet or succeed them.

Supporters In addition to maintaining your own customers, it is very helpful to have someone to plead your case.  The supporters will stand up and plead your case to everyone.  They will help you to be successful in many ways.  When others are going against you, the supporters will stand up and defend you.  In both the Romney and Santorum camps, there were a number of supporters helping them gain votes in the days and weeks leading up to the election.

Timeliness Another factor that played a major role in the election results was the timeline in which things occurred.  Several candidates surged at different times leading up to the election.  Rick Santorum, however, surged at the right time.  He remained under the radar for a majority of the campaigning process and then surged right when the voters had to make their final decisions.  As leaders it is very important to make decisions at the right time.  This is especially important when implementing change or initiating new programs.  Be very aware of the timeframes that you are making your decisions.

What leadership lessons did you learn from theIowaelection outcome?


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