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Ten ways to learn from politicians’ mistakes

Politicians' mistakes - Millennium DomeWhile the sins of the great and the good may be amusing, the similarities between politics and business mean there are serious lessons you can learn. Follow these steps to avoid making the same mistakes as politicians

  1. Stay calm and diplomatic under pressure. Dealing with pressure is part of being a good leader. Just think of David Cameron weaving uncertainly through questions about gay rights in an interview with the Gay Times, or Gordon Brown walking out on Sky News’ Adam Boulton. Pressure goes with the territory; restraining angry impulses, remaining diplomatic and focusing on what you are trying to achieve will help you get your points across clearly and make sound business decisions.
  2. Listen to your key advisers. Tony Blair’s decision to ignore the warnings of the Foreign Office, and to go to war with Iraq without a United Nations mandate, was a major factor in the Labour Party’s downturn in popularity. Encourage the opinions of senior staff and other people you trust before you make big decisions — they may have a valuable alternative perspective.
  3. Treat your staff well. The bullying allegations made against Gordon Brown by Andrew Rawnsley in his book The End of the Party did him no favours. Strong leadership is essential to maintain your authority, but bullying in any form is not acceptable. Neither is it good for business, demotivating staff and potentially leaving you open to tribunal claims.
  4. Build in contingency funds. A delayed or botched project can cause huge embarrassment. For example, the Millennium Dome project massively overstretched its original budget and had to be bailed out with an extra £230 million in National Lottery grants. When planning projects, set a realistic timescale for developments, forecast your cashflow and build in contingency funds.
  5. Maintain your integrity. The 1990s 'Cash for questions' affair, in which Tory MPs were allegedly bribed to ask Parliamentary questions for Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed, shamed the Conservative party. Make sure your employees understand they are expected to behave professionally at all times and be beyond reproach.
  6. Work hard to retain customers. MPs who become complacent about the residents they serve tend eventually to lose their seats. Do not take your customers for granted — to retain them you must maintain regular contact, respond to their needs and show them that they are valued.
  7. Don’t ignore complaints. The recent expenses scandal damaged MPs’ credibility and proved that covering up mistakes only makes the situation worse. In the age of social media, bad publicity can ruin reputations quickly. If you receive a complaint, follow it up promptly and calmly, even if you think it is unjustified.
  8. Deliver on rhetoric. Many a politician has promised voters the world, only to let them down once they are in power. Make sure the promises you make to your customers are deliverable — if you say you will send something by next-day delivery, make sure you do.
  9. Communicate clearly. Politicians who talk in clichés usually alienate voters. Speak your customers’ language, instead of hiding behind jargon or being vague, and provide them with clear information about the things that are most likely to interest them.
  10. Read the market. The 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher’s unwavering support of the Poll Tax, despite it being deeply unpopular with the electorate, was a key cause of her downfall. Monitor your market, listen to feedback, find out what your customers want and respond to their needs.

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