Whether you are brand new to politics or are looking to take your career to the next level, the concepts contained in this briefing paper are probably some of the most important and powerful in the whole Inside Source training program.
There is no getting around the importance of “the power of why” if you want to take your career to the next level.
And the process of self-discovery that is commonly involved with discovering your “why” will be life changing and set you up for success in whatever you attempt to accomplish.
In short, the why comes from within and is an individual’s understanding of what their goal(s) are in life and why.
It is like unlocking the passion in one’s self, that will motivate and drive all future action.
Furthermore, the “power of why” is also crucial to motivating and inspiring action in others.
I have included some accompanying materials from one of the foremost experts on the issue, Simon Sinek. I suggest you listen to the TED talk which was widely distributed on the web, 24 million views as of this writing, and here are some links to other Sinek podcasts on Soundcloud.
Sinek illustrates in his book why and how “the power of why” is instrumental in the development of effective political leaders, as well as all individuals in any field or industry.
Apple’s values, and why, is simple yet extremely powerful because it resonates with people and creates a lasting bond with its employees and customers, and appeals to new customers.
For example, Apple provides extremely high-quality, or elite products that are easy to use and appeal to people who do not to be overly confused by their personal computer.
Apple’s why began with an idea of Steve Jobs more than 30 years ago. Jobs sought to build the highest-quality personal computer and make it available to the entire world. Furthermore, Jobs wanted to create a machine that would help users pursue their creative dreams, whatever they may be.
Jobs was meticulous in the delineation of the details of the why down to choosing a selection of fonts, a certain look for computers, and the marketing image of Apple.
Yet all these details combine to be crucial components of Apple’s why and form the character of the world’s most successful and powerful corporation, as well as the most adored by its users.
The why can be very simple yet deep, both narrow and broad, all encompassing and difficult to define in abstract terms. The power of why must be seen through example and observation. It must be authentic, come from within, and cannot be faked or contrived.
The why must be based on an inner set of core beliefs or core values.
The why is why we do what we do—the inner driving force behind our external actions. The why is the inner light that shines through all our actions. The why makes our decisions for us and leads us to the correct path of action.
In politics, I would say it is akin to our political soul or character, and in some cases lack of.
This is the stuff that can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and gives you tinkles when you come in brief contact with it. The why can get us out of bed early in the morning and make us feel fulfilled when we return to bed and think about our day and career.
The discovery and pursuit of our why leads us to long term career success, as well as a sense of satisfaction and happiness with life.
In politics, I believe the development of “why” begins with developing a political purpose which is based upon strong set of core political values.
This sense of purpose will not come overnight, rather it develops over time. But once developed, represents a powerful foundation to inspire and drive political action, and achieve any number of other goals.
The Importance of Developing a Political Purpose
I have studied political leaders my whole life, both through first hand personal observation and from second hand sources such as books and the media.
I have found that the most successful and powerful politicians, as well as staff and advocates, hold the position they do because they have established a strong political purpose that drives their actions.
Furthermore, the foundation of this political purpose is a set of core values. Also referred to by some as “core value-driven leadership,” as will be discussed in greater length in future modules.
These individuals are passionate about what they do and this passion shows through in everything they do. This serves to garner the respect of others, as well as inspire, and gives these individuals a strong power base from which to conduct their work.
Former California State Senate Pro Tem John Burton (D) and former State Senator Martha Escutia (D) come to mind as examples of individuals who proved to me the power of an established political purpose and a strong core value system.
As the Inside Source case studies will illustrate (future publications), Senate Pro Tem John Burton was cited as one of the strongest, if not the strongest driving force behind AB 1493 (Pavely, 2002). The bill made California the first state in the nation to enact a tougher state automobile emissions standard than the federal level.
I used to work for Senate Martha Escutia (D) and saw first hand how people responded to her strong sense of core political values.
Both Burton and Escutia believed passionately in environmental regulation and social justice, among other core Democratic values. Escutia was passionate in her pursuit of a better education for English learners. John Burton fought tenaciously for the poor and underserved.
Other members, staff, advocates and most people who they came in contact with respected their well-established reputations for integrity and stubborn adherence to a core set of political values.
People knew where Burton and Escutia stood on the issues by knowing them and their established track record of past political actions that were consistent with their value system.
One only needs to look at the history books of some of the most accomplished figures to further see importance of developing and adhering to a strong code of values.
To illustrate, further examine former U.S. Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, Rev. Martin Luther King, and South African President Nelson Mandela.
These individuals served as some of the best examples of the power and political position that derives from having a strong political purpose.
In all these cases, that political purpose transcended the individual, and represented the desire to achieve some type of higher ideal such as ending slavery, ending poverty, addressing racism, or making society a better place in some way.
Furthermore, a key attribute of many of these values is that they are not seen as being motivated by self-interest and seek to further the common good of society or the electorate.
These types of politicians also benefit from the fact that they are small minority in the world of politics, as well as the world in general. Whereas, the public perceives the majority of politicians as motivated by self-interest and political expediency—these individuals are the exception to the rule. They are truly driven towards the common good—which definitely catches peoples’ attention, particularly those who witness it first hand.
The strong sense of purpose possessed by these individual’s can be felt when listening to them speak, and can make our skin tingle, and instantly want to be a part of what they have to say.
Nearly all politicians profess to be addressing the common good, but few exhibit such a strong passion and consistent pattern of political action such as that demonstrated by the aforementioned individuals.
One of the goals of the Inside Source government training program is to provide guidance for developing both a political purpose and strong set of core political values. This issue will be revisited and explained in greater detail in future reports.
The Consequences of a Misguided Or Poor Political Purpose
Not everyone who enters politics does so to accomplish some higher societal goal such as fighting poverty or racism.
Some people stumble into politics, and just muddle through as best they can without acknowledging or addressing the issue of political purpose.
I would argue that there are some potentially dangerous consequences for getting into politics for the wrong reasons, operating with a poor sense of political purpose, pursuing primarily self-interested goals, and even worse, downright corruption.
Individuals with a poor sense of political purpose may achieve some short-term gains, but in the end commonly jeopardize their potential for a long-term career and positive political legacy.
The alternative to developing a political purpose that drives your action is akin being seen as a “waffler” or “political operator” who is motivated out of strict self-interest, as opposed to some greater purpose or adherence to a set of core values.
Former California Governor Gray Davis (D) comes to mind as an example of the alternative type of politician who lacked a political purpose that dictated action. On the contrary, Davis was commonly seen to be primarily motivated by strict self-interest and political expediency.
Many criticized Davis for pandering to certain segments of voters based on polling, not policy grounds. Voters were also alienated by Davis’ fundraising efforts and negative campaigning, according to several media reports.
Davis tried to maintain a middle-of-the road approach, but ultimately alienated many of the state’s liberals who viewed him as to conservative and many conservatives who viewed him as too liberal.
Davis’ declining popularity in the wake of the budget and electricity crises, led to the recall election and the election of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Being an effective “political operator” is fine, particularly if you are an advocate, and all politicians need to learn skills to operate effectively in a political environment. But this type of behavior does not usually inspire the action of others or serve to garner the respect of others for seeking to further the common good, as opposed to self-interest.
Still worse, pursuing purely self-interested monetary transactions that are illegal can land you in court or jail, as seen by the charges brought against some recent California Senators.
Application of Strong Core Values for Capitol State, Advocates and Other Non-Elected Individuals
Hopefully I did not lose anyone here, who thought they were in the wrong training because these concepts may, at first glance, appear to only apply to elected politicians.
On the contrary, everyone needs to address the issue of “why,” “political purpose,” and “core political values.”
This is something that employers look for in determining what employees to hire, and what elected officials look for in staff.
Questions such as: What motivates this individual? Does this individual share some of my core political values? Does this person have integrity? Can this person be trusted to work in my office?
Capitol staff is essentially an extension of the member, and the values shared by staff largely represent the member in the closely knit Capitol community and beyond.
Staff is basically an ambassador for the representative whether in public, in private meetings, or on the phone. And members want to know that you will be a positive representation of them and their goals.
Examining your goals, and comparing them to the members’ goals, can also be a great way to determine if you would be a good fit in their office. Alternatively, if many of your beliefs and political views differ from the member, that may not be the right fit for you.
The same principles apply to lobbying firms and private companies.
How to Develop Core Political Values and Identity
The development of a strong political identity and core political value system does not happen overnight, rather this can take many years to develop—but the results are breathtaking and perhaps the single most powerful development process and result an individual can achieve.
Political values cannot be taught by an instructor, they can only be acquired through life experience and self-examination.
The best advice I can give is to seek to learn about yourself and create an image or ideal of how you see yourself operating in the political environment, as well as society, over the long term.
All great political leaders and successful business people are visionaries. They develop a conception of the World they live in and create a follow a path to success in that World.
Here are some additional qualities of political values that may be helpful:
A) Political values come from within, they come from understanding yourself and you underlying personal motivations.
B) Political values are not static, rather they can change over time with life experience and age.
C) Political values are unique to the individual, but can be shared across large groups and societies.
D) Political values should be seen as the rule of individual action rather than the exception to the rule. Individuals base decisions on a complex set of motivations and some decisions may be made which appear out of step with certain values, but were made based on a unique set of circumstances.
We will return to this topic in greater detail in future reports, but I wanted to raise its importance to spark some initial thought and action.
Seek Out Political Role Models and Mentors
Perhaps the best way to succeed is learn how others have succeeded and seek to emulate their success.
Role models and mentors were very important to my own political development and key to getting me started and continued on the right path.
My mentor and mother, Elisabeth Kersten, was the former director of the Senate Office of Research, and taught me many things but perhaps most importantly how to think analytically regarding public policy.
My former boss was a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. taught me the value of research and writing, and how to conduct and use these tools to make the case for your course of political action.
My political mentors taught me many things but perhaps most importantly the great power of ideas and inspiration and how to translate ideas into real world action, such as success in politics and business.
Perhaps my most influential role models are thinkers and writers, such as Plato, Rousseau, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Emerson, who passed away more than 150 years ago, yet are largely responsible for the values I developed and the way I see and function in the world.
Our political role models and mentors form the foundation upon which our success can be built. They are an essential part to understanding how to succeed in the world.
We cannot do everything alone. Many of the most successful products and innovations come from small research teams and the collaborative efforts of small groups of individuals who develop and refine ideas.
Moreover, such individuals can guide our efforts throughout life and serve as invaluable sounding boards for our ideas and career aspirations.
Role models serve to inspire, challenge, and propel us toward our dreams.
The Inside Source government training program is an innovative training program aimed at elected officials, their staff, and advocates. The program was developed by David Kersten, president of the Kersten Institute for Governance & Public Policy.