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How Politics Made Me a Better Consultant

In the “not Seilevel” part of my life, I help run a Texas grassroots political organization. I’ve been a member of the administrator group for several years. In addition to all our offline activities (meet the candidate events, volunteer events, volunteer training, get-out-the-vote activities, and charity drives) we run an online group that is 100% focused on Texas politics. Moderating that online group is a constant challenge. People of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds who live in very different communities, all opinionated, all passionate, mixing it up in an online forum – it can get a little wild sometimes. Over the years we’ve established some ground rules, and if problems occur, we consult with the other administrators to determine the best course of action. It seems to be working. I’ve seen plenty of other groups lose their way, lose their focus and scope control, get taken over by a clique, become irrelevant. We’ve managed to avoid that fate so far. Also, my involvement with this group has inspired me to become a volunteer deputy registrar and precinct chair in my own county.

It’s not a stretch of imagination to draw parallels between politics and consulting. Anyone who’s been a consultant knows that negotiating the politics of the client’s organization as well as your own is just part of the game. There are a few key lessons that political activism has taught me that have helped me grow my professional skills.

  1. There are no dumb questions. Many people come to our group with limited knowledge. They may not know how the electoral college works. They may not even know who their Congressperson is. And that’s okay. Everyone starts from where they are. Never get impatient. Never tease someone for their lack of information. Remember the goal. Don’t get frustrated. Meet people where they are and help them get to the next level.
  2. Not everyone is going to like you. No matter how persuasive, educated, and nice you are, some folks are going to vote against you. Some stakeholders are going to thwart you. Some people are going to ignore you. Don’t let it get you down. Don’t be petty about it. Find supporters and allies and invest your time and energy in them. Don’t let negativity shatter your focus.
  3. Scope control really matters! In our group, keeping the focus on Texas politics has been a constant challenge. People want to post about their church picnics or about the latest juicy national or international news or funny meme. Use administrative privilege, delete things that don’t comply, calmly restate the rules, and move on.
  4. Stay humble. If you’re good at what you do, you’ll develop a reputation. The gubernatorial candidate calls you about coming to your event. It’s easy to start thinking that you’re a big noise. Resist the temptation. Remember you’re there to serve your community and help others, not build a personal brand. The minute you start thinking it’s about you, you will compromise the team goal for your own aggrandizement. DON’T DO IT.
  5. Seek common ground. Any group, political party, campaign, project, or organization is going to have disagreements and discord. Attempts to portray perfect unity are called marketing, not reality. Find those subjects you do agree on and build on them. Present your opinion with clarity and respect. Be willing to change your mind if new information is presented, but stay true to yourself too. Pick your battles wisely.
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