How studying the presidential candidates can make you a better collaborator

As election season thunders on, let’s take a timeout and considers how the various campaigns, whether successful or short-lived (not naming any names), can inform and reinforce the ways we approach collaboration.

And, yes, probably a lot of our collaboration lessons from Game of Thrones would apply here, too. 


People are skeptical that big changes are possible

It’s hard to find anyone who publicly favors the status quo, and yet it can be a daunting and even seemingly insurmountable challenge to drive real, foundational change in a company (or nation). That’s especially true for monolithic organizations, of course, but can be true even in lean startups.

I’ve heard it firsthand many times, including at Collabosphere last fall. Our speakers presented big ideas, from Phil Simon and Claire Haidar’s broadsides against email as a collaboration tool to Ben Casnocha’s verdict that “the employee-employer relationship is broken.” After setting out a vision for a better way of working together, someone from the audience would occasionally ask, essentially (and with good reason): Sounds great, but…my bosses aren’t going to go for that. How can I change if no one else wants to change?

Change doesn’t have to start at the top, but it usually does have to at least reach the top. In our own research, we’ve seen that executive leadership is one of the most influential factors in determining whether a collaboration solution will find long-term success.

But we’ve also seen a lot of smaller departments that have changed the way they work together even if their business as a whole is slow to make these changes.


Play to your crowd, sincerely

I believe that your business is not mere cubicles and chairs, but a shining city upon a hill, filled with cross-disciplinary collaborators. Where silos once stood, bridges now are built, connecting marketing to every department. Beneath the bridges: rivers of free-flowing information, accessible to all.

OK, this political thing is kind of addictive.

In politics, playing the crowd often equates to pandering to the crowd. Tell people what they want to hear, avoid uncomfortable confrontations, then find reasons for never taking action (and it’s always easy to justify inaction).

That happens in business, too. But the better path forward, in this era of collaboration and transparency, is for departments to really be able to talk each other’s language, and understand each other’s sometimes conflicting priorities.

As Dr. Alison Whybrow advised us, “If you’re an engineer meeting with a salesperson, take a moment to consider, what does this look like from the salesperson’s perspective. What are the pressures on him/her that this situation creates? What would success look like for him/her?”


The explanation of your idea is as important as the idea itself

Sometimes your best ideas may be so amazing and self-explanatory that they will rise naturally to the top. Most times, especially if you’re asking for additional resources or shaking up a routine, you’ll have to make your case—and equivocation can lead to the revocation of future opportunities. It’s not enough to just work a room and rely on charisma anymore; today’s leaders and collaborators need to be able to clearly explain their vision whether they’re in the boardroom, on a conference call, or participating in an online proof or discussion.


Narcissism attracts and inspires… in the short-term

Politicians are routinely skewered as if they were uniquely narcissistic, but there’s no shortage of ego and self-absorption in the business world. On paper, and in the short-term, narcissists are excellent leaders—charismatic, commanding and consumed with chasing success.

In the long run, though, research suggests that narcissists sink collaborative cultures.

“A leader’s narcissism actually inhibits information exchange between group members and thereby negatively affects group performance,” say the researchers behind the University of Amsterdam’s “Reality at Odds With Perceptions” study.

That being said, if a managerial candidate seems kind of like a narcissist, he or she may be a perfect fit. “In a recent meta-analytic study, managers with moderate narcissism scores did tend to outperform not only managers with high, but also low, rates of narcissism,” Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says.


Certain collaboration-thwarting biases are beyond your control

You may do everything possible to be a power collaborator—the types we call ringleaders, experts and socialites—and yet perhaps it seems like no one is ever meeting you halfway. Perhaps you are being judged for your face’s value. In one of those lovely quirks of human nature, we are wired to judge each other’s trustworthiness by key factors like “roundness of chin.” This election season, there was a whole news cycle devoted to figuring out whether some people have creepy faces, scientifically speaking; I learned the excellent German word backpfeifengesicht in the process.

While there’s only so much you can do about your suspicious-looking chin (granted, some doctors here in L.A. would probably argue otherwise), you can investigate the hidden biases and preconceived notions that may keep your coworkers from embracing your big ideas or meshing with your company’s collaborative or creative culture.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.