Many people aspire to public office. Whether they are struck by the lure of power and political influence or genuinely interested in contributing to society and “making a difference” they believe in themselves. However, many looking forward to some type of political career fail to take a good look at their own personality traits and characteristics. Even more importantly, individuals with an eye on the political scene do not understand how they can best present what psychologists call their own “persona.”
What are the best strategies to “connect” with voters and future constituents? What are some of the best ways to present who you are and what you intend to accomplish? If for some reason you doubt the importance of these factors in the political process, consider that it is the opinion of this psychologist that the single most important feature in being elected is personality. Most voters are not experts on the issues. They may have certain points of view but even these viewpoints can be overridden by the dynamic aspects of a candidates personality. Also, many voters will vote for individuals who are not identical to their own thoughts if they “like” the candidate. The exceptions may be at the extreme right or left of the political spectrum, but most people fall somewhere in the “middle.”
In the past generation (prior to last year’s election) perhaps the best examples of personalities that work for the majority of Americans are Presidents Reagan and Clinton. Both with very different personalities but each with their own dynamic presentation of themselves.
As a regular commentator on News 12 New Jersey’s Power and Politics I have had the opportunity to identify those specific traits and characteristics that are without question critical to anyone seeking public office or interested in retaining their seat. The four traits/characteristics that are essential are identified as: 1. Being Consistent, 2. Becoming the Best Listener You Can Be, 3. Never Disregard or Dismiss Someone or Their Viewpoints, 4. Be Yourself/Present Your Own Traits.
In terms of Being Consistent it is important to realize that noone is perfect and noone can pretend to always be the “same’ without looking “phony” or too scripted. But it is essential to present yourself in a similar manner with regard to the issues of the day. You certainly do not want to give your competitors fuel that will result in you being a victim of the “flip/flop’ argument.
With regard to Becoming the Best Listener You Can Be it is absolutely essential that you take a lesson from former President Clinton. His personality was/is geared around listening effectively, remembering almost everyone and what they say, and responding in the most personal detailed fashion. People are usually startled because he remembers not only who they are but what they say and stand for while he delivers his personal touch. This enables him to be extremely effective with his communication skills.
Perhaps the worst trait anyone in politics can present is to overtly Disregard or Dismiss someone else as if they do not exist or are unimportant. This will enrage the person who is being completely ignored and create an enemy for life. No thoughtful effective politician should ever engage is such a self serving and negative approach toward someone else.
As far as making sure that you Be Yourself and Present Your Own Traits we all must understand that everyone has a different set of personality traits. Psychologists say that many features of our own personalities develop between the ages of three to five. It is essential that you not try to “be different” from the person you are simply to gain office. This will usually result in failure. If you are more reserved, less dynamic, more thoughtful, careful, less verbal, etc. go with these traits and make it work for you. What is most effective is that the voter or future constituent realize that you are comfortable in your own skin. Very few can be dynamic, spectacularly brilliant, remarkably engaging, and incredibly attractive. Perhaps the best example of what not to do in this regard is former Vice President Al Gore. He changed how he presented himself with different looks, changing his style to hopefully meet certain expectations, and became someone other than himself in the 2000 election. He effectively defeated himself.
In New Jersey perhaps the best example of someone who is extremely well liked, appreciated, and perceived as a great communicator is former governor Tom Kean Sr. He does not have a dynamic personality, nor is he overwhelming with any specific trait or characteristic. However, everyone knows that he is “himself” and he projects as someone who “is comfortable” in his own skin. For him this is a terrific approach with regard to his projection of himself.
The 2008 Election presented some remarkable examples why some individuals with very different personalities were so successful. Former governor Huckabee managed to go from “nowhere” to a relatively close second to McCain by using his skills as a former preacher, a great sense of himself, brilliantly placed humor, and a very consistent approach to the campaign. McCain’s finest moment might have been when he was asked to identify his greatest mistake as a candidate. He said that it was in 2000 when he failed to make a comment about the Confederate Flag flying over the capital building in South Carolina. Many would not be so honest, straightforward, and sincere. Most voters appreciated his honesty and ability to criticize himself. Perhaps there is a good reason why he has been identified as a “maverick.”
On the Democratic side it was interesting to watch Hillary because people became aware of her remarkable ability to project herself into everything she said. She puts her feelings, thoughts, and ideas into what she says and does it with a feminine touch while still remaining strong and committed. Perhaps her only real problem in the campaign was the fact that she was running against a candidate that was quite simply overwhelmingly spectacular. Obama has many gifted personality traits. What I spoke about quite often on News 12 New Jersey’s Power and Politics was a trait that I called “simplicity of thought.” He not only speaks very well but more importantly lets you into his thinking process. When he speaks you not only understand what he is clearly stating but you get a “window” into his mind. You can relate by saying “I get it.” He has very unusual and exceptional characteristics and traits and he remains consistent while being an excellent listener.
The best advice is often quite simple. The four traits or characteristics that everyone should relate to are not really that complicated, but extremely powerful.