Studying Elected Officials to Improve Private Sector Leadership
Updated: Oct 5
I often describe my professional life in three chapters:
Chapter I: Technology (1990–2004)
Chapter II: Government (2004–2011)
Chapter III: Entrepreneurship (2011–Present)
Over the past several years, I’ve been trying to figure out why, despite the fact that I have not been in government for nearly a decade, I’m still the consummate student of politics who is following campaigns and studying the every move of elected officials.
Chapter I: Technology
Ever since I was a boy, I was interested in computers. It all started with video games. That got me interested in building computers so that I could have a higher performing machine. Then I had to start writing scripts to be a better gamer and making websites for the esports team I was running. That got me into web development.
I then realized that I could make $25/hour by building websites commercially so I started a one-man creative agency and built websites for a handful of organizations and brands.
Chapter II: Government
In college, I chose political science as my major because of the influence my late stepfather, Howard Polsky, had on me. After graduating, I dropped tech as a hobby and career switched into government.
I worked for a senior Member of Congress for four years (NYC’s Charlie Rangel) from 2004 to 2008. I then moved to Washington, DC to get an MBA from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business (MSB) with the intention of returning to public service once I was armed with an MBA.
Rangel, C. B. (2007). And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
During the Summer of 2009, I dove deeper into government through an internship at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It was then and there that I realized direct public service (working at a government agency) was not for me so I decided to test the water in public sector consulting for a private sector company (Booz Allen) when I graduated in 2010. I figured it was the best of both worlds: public sector impact with private sector benefits.
It took me less than a year to quit my job at Booz. I hated the buttoned up nature of big companies, which felt inauthentic to me, and I was not having the outsized impact I had fantasized about.
Chapter III: Entrepreneurship
I started Social Tables in 2011 (sold in late 2018 to Vista-owned Cvent) and changed careers yet again. I loved the challenges that came with starting a business and became infatuated with both developing as a leader and becoming the ever-improving operator.
Despite the fact that I moved away from government, to this day I continue to follow politics, campaigns, and policy. My Twitter feed is a hodgepodge of business thoughts and political commentary.
“What do all of these things have in common?” I often wonder to myself. Finally, I found the clarity I’ve been seeking.
Leadership Is the Connective Tissue
The common denominator is leadership. I consider myself a life-long student of leadership, regardless of what my actual job is… and leadership in government is an ongoing — and public — case study of the subject matter.
By studying leaders in public office and how they navigate the political landscape that comes with the job, I can learn how to be a better leader and operator.
There are skills that are directly transferable:
Setting a vision
Oration and public speaking
And there are tactics that are indirectly transferable:
International affairs -> Partnerships and competitiveness
Campaigns -> Sales and go-to-market
Policy -> Strategy
Approval ratings -> Net Promoter Score (NPS)
The biggest similarity is that in both public office and the private sector, the ultimate goal is to deliver value to your stakeholders (donors = investors, volunteers = early employees, voters = later employees, constituents = customers, and country = industry)… and to keep winning.
While these similarities may be obvious, the key is to be able to take these public lessons, learn from them, and find ways to apply them effectively to the business world.
This post is adapted from this tweetstorm.