If you are following the American presidential hopefuls running for office, you’ve noticed stories popping up about the discord inside the Trump campaign.
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Some of the higher ups inside the campaign are in a turf war, fighting over influence and authority, dividing themselves into camps, and sabotaging the efforts of others or refusing to share information. The fact that we are reading about it means that the camps are talking to the press and airing dirty laundry. That’s always a sign that the staff fights have become destructive.
I’ve been in those, and a witness to more. There is seldom anything more toxic to a political campaign than highly paid staff at war with each other. Once it starts, their chief concern becomes protecting their seat at the table, and keeping knifes out of their backs. Instead of fighting the competitors of the candidate, they waste time plotting ways to assassinate fellow comrades at the table.
The first is preemptive- stopping it before it starts.
I once worked with someone who commands a billion dollar oil, ranch and agricultural empire. He always regarded his footprints as his best fertilizer.
He is in daily contact with his division heads, but he also makes a point of spending time each week visiting with his ranch hands and oil field workers. Nine times out of ten, he says, they are the first to tell him about a looming problem.
Good candidates take time to go underneath the chain of command and spend time with the workers in the back room. They ask questions. They do it when senior staff is not around. They ask for candor. And listen well. The worker bees are much more likely to speak truth to a candidate than a highly paid staff worried about protecting their paycheck. And they are less likely to hide unpleasant facts.
The second is- Keep your staff focused on the prize
What does a candidate do when they read about a staff war in the newspaper?
At that point, a candidate must step into the battle zone and lay down the law about who is in charge of what, establish clear lines of authority, settle the disputes, and make it clear that those leaking to the press will be terminated.
According to reports, Mr. Trump did that last week, cancelling appearances on the campaign trail to hose down the inferno at his campaign headquarters.
What if that doesn’t work? In 1980, Ronald Reagan was going through a similar problem. On the day of the New Hampshire primary he called three of his top lieutenants to his hotel room, told them he was making a change, and handed each a press release announcing their resignation. It fixed the problem. The press leaks stopped. Reagan went on to win the Presidency and alter the course of a nation.
Whether you are running an army, a company, or a campaign, it is incumbent on you to keep your lieutenants in line and stay focused on the prize. If you don’t, you’ll be headed to the dustbin of history, and those highly paid staffers will be headed to the unemployment line.
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Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.
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