Our chief operating office Tonie Chaltas was recently invited to speak at a Women in Politics event. She talked about her communications journey in the political arena and some key learnings she has taken away from her experiences. Here are some highlights from Tonie’s speech.
Over the years, I’ve worked and volunteered for politicians and candidates at all three levels of government—from a Prime Minister, a premier and a mayor to leadership candidates and those seeking election for the first time.
I’ve learned a lot on my political journey, and throughout the years there are five things that stand out as being consistently true:
1. Perception is reality.
This might not come as a surprise. Politics 101 teaches us that the way others see you is, in fact, who you are. Even if that’s not really who you are, it’s who you are to the public. Your words and what people hear is everything. Even if your words have been misinterpreted—or downright twisted—what your audience hears is their truth. Period. And everything one says and does needs to be seen through that filter.
The phrase “perception is reality” is now commonplace outside of politics; however, experience has taught me that when things are unfolding in real time, this understanding slips away. We need to remain outwardly focused. We need to think about other points of view and consider how it might be perceived by others.
If you think through your actions using this mindset, there’s an opportunity to reframe plans to ensure you address potential criticisms—or at least be ready to deal with them.
2. Develop a point of view and don’t be afraid to share.
I have been blessed in politics; my voice has always been welcome. But when I was first starting out, I was cautious with my opinions and, in many cases, intimidated by those with more experience. I watched others step up while I sat quietly.
Living in my little box was naïve. I thought all I had to do to succeed was to put my head down and deliver. I was wrong. It turns out, actually, that I was very wrong.
I didn’t realize at the time that you have to bring it all—not just your own expertise, your own perspective, but a broader point of view that’s more holistic.
When I left politics, I believed that a successful career was the shape of a triangle: you start at the bottom where you learn a lot about a wide variety of things. As you progress, your focus narrows and you become a subject-matter expert.
And then I had an “a-ha” moment. The kind that stops you in your tracks and reframes your entire way of thinking.
This is what I learned: when you make it to the executive ranks, that triangle needs to turn into an hourglass. Your perspective and knowledge has to broaden again and you’re expected to offer perspective on myriad topics you may have never encountered before. It might be uncomfortable at first, but—make no mistake—you will be judged by your contribution or lack thereof.
So, find your voice early. Watch and learn from the pros. Get over your shyness. Politics affords a unique opportunity to do just that. You can engage in debate and discussion on a wide range of topics on which no one and everyone is an expert.
3. Yes, it’s about the undecided, but don’t turn your back on supporters.
Politics teaches us not to waste time on those who’ll never convert. To focus efforts on the undecided and forgot those far removed from your point of view. While it’s true that you can move the undecided and win elections (and a great deal of money and effort is put into doing just that), we’ve also seen what happens when too much time is spent wowing new supporters. Elections have been lost when a governing party takes its base for granted.
This is an important lesson for business. Too many leaders make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people or expecting that the entire organization will get behind their decisions. The reality is, of course, that you can never satisfy everyone. This is true with everything in life. You need to focus on what you believe is right, stay close to your supporters and ask them to be your champions.
Listen closely to what they’re telling you. Then act.
4. Your network is gold.
Politics is the great equalizer—it brings all types of people together. Often, we take that for granted; we think it’s normal.
It is not.
It’s like a war, and the bonds that are built can last a lifetime. Don’t let this go! Put in the effort to grow and nurture relationships. It’s all about give and take, and networks only get stronger and bigger if we use them.
5. The female perspective is different.
And we need to be heard.
Although a man and a woman may ultimately share the same point of view, the motivation behind that point of view will be different. How you communicate that point of view will be very different.
In business, we don’t need to try to change these differences. We are who we are. But we need to be conscious that differences do exist. Whether it’s passion versus emotion, competition versus collaboration or an entirely different way of connecting, respecting these differences can mean that we speak to our audiences in ways that will resonate best. In ways that they’ll hear us. Because, further to point No. 1, hearing is believing.