Why Winning Candidates Often Say “No”

Campaign lessons from Greg McKeown's ESSENTIALISM

Do you want to know one of the biggest secrets behind winning a political candidate? It’s actually not much of a secret as it’s the key to success in school, business, and relationships.  It’s knowing when to say that one simple, single syllable word: NO.

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Time after time I’ve seen candidates become overwhelmed and burn out well before Election Day because they’re attempting to do too much.

Sadly, this usually happens because they agree to do too many things instead of staying focused on only what’s important for them to accomplish any given day.

Because most candidates don’t want to disappoint people who make requests of them, they agree to do things that do not help them win. They agree to things that are not a good use of their time or money.  They wind up getting pulled in so many different directions that the vital tasks of their campaign don’t get accomplished.

That’s why it’s important for political candidates to know what’s essential and focus their time and energy on those things.  Winning candidates need to become what Greg McKeown refers to as an “Essentialist.”

In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (this is an affiliate link), McKeown points out two major misconceptions that everyone needs to be aware of.

The first is that you don’t have a choice in your activities.  That’s a lie we conveniently tell ourselves. The truth is that we get to choose everything we decide to do and don’t do.  However, for various reasons many people give up their power to choose and say “yes” to everything.

Believe it or not, that’s actually a choice – and it’s one of the worst a candiadate can make.

That’s because every time you make a choice (either actively or passively) there’s a trade off.  When you do one thing, you give up something else.  Most people don’t believe such trade off’s exist.  That’s the second misconception and one as a candidate you need to be very aware of.

If you choose to spend an hour in the late morning interacting with people on Facebook, that’s an hour you chose to give up making fundraising calls.

If you agree to attend a meet and greet at a neighbor’s house where only six people show up, that’s an hour or more you chose to give up when you could have been talking to dozens of voters by knocking on their doors.

Likewise, if you decide to block off three hours each day to make fundraising calls rather than check email, you’ve made a choice to raise the money you need to be competitive rather than respond instantly to every message that pops up on your screen as they arrive.

If you choose to say “no” to the slick vendor trying to sell you bumper stickers or pot holders for your campaign, you’ve decided to give that up in order to have money necessary to send out a mailer that effectively tells your story to the targeted voters of your district.

To get the most out of your time and put the best of your energy into your campaign, you need to make very clear choices about what you do and don’t do, realizing the trade off’s involved in each.

You must commit to the essentials of your campaign.  You need to embrace “The Way of the Essentialist.”  Here’s how Greg McKeown describes it:

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

As a candidate, the essentials of your campaign are clear.  You must focus on fundraising to meet your budget goals, going door-to-door to convert likely voters into supporters, and having an effective voter mass communication program.

Everything else is not essential and should be evaluated appropriately.  Some of the things you are asked to do can be eliminated, some can be delegated to staff, family, or volunteers, and some will require your presence or involvement.  If that’s the case, be aware of what you’re trading off as you agree to this request because it will always cost you something.

Winning candidates don’t say “no” to everything.  They say “no” to things that don’t help them win their election and vastly limit things that are not essential to winning.

If you’re serious about winning, then learn to be an Essentialist.  It’ll help you get more of the important campaign tasks done in a timely manner and that’s an essential component of winning any election.