It is important for business leaders to understand how to play an active role in the power play of politics instead of just being a bystander.
Politicians repeatedly make fundamental decisions that consciously or unconsciously violate all economic rules and the interests of the business community: Donald Trump’s economic war against China and the EU, the looming No-Deal-Brexit, the German ‘Energiewende’ – the list could be continued at will. Out of deep conviction and supported by millions of citizens, massive economic damage is accepted in order to satisfy the national pride of the population or to pursue ecological goals. This does not mean that representatives of the people are enemies of the economy. Politics and economics are only fundamentally different. The politician’s ambition is to serve his or her country. The goal of a company is to make profit in order to survive.
Hence, it is all the more important for CEOs to understand how to participate in the power game of politics instead of just being an extra. Business representatives must get involved in the mindset of politics, its processes and conditions of legitimation. There are five simple rules of thumb.
Be a partner, not an opponent:
Politicians – with very few exceptions – have no interest in actively harming companies. Often, they don’t even know the problems of the companies. Instead, they look for solutions to problems facing society as a whole, and for this they need external know-how and information. Companies that offer themselves at an early stage as partners in solving political problems can actively shape policies in the development process instead of having to defend themselves against unwanted results afterwards.
The leading currency of the democratic system is trust. Nothing is more important for the functioning of our political processes and for parliamentary democracy. Economic actors who constantly fail to make good on their claims, statement, and promises have no chance of success in the political power game.
Respect the principles of the common good
Politicians must weigh, reconcile and aggregate competing social interests in order to approach the common good. Pure particular interests, which aim exclusively at the advantages of a singular group, usually lose out in this continuous process. Companies are therefore well advised to demonstrate that their business development is connected with the common good and that their interests are generalizable.
Be a good host
Companies who invite political decision-makers – to their corporate headquarters or factories make their interests tangible and vivid. During such visits it becomes clear that not only balance sheets and abstract numbers are at stake, but also real people and real products.
Get off your high horse
The most important political decisions are usually made not on the glamorous stage of big politics, but on the working level – in specialist departments, departments of state chancelleries, committees, etc. If one wants to exert influence successfully, even CEOs shouldn’t be shy away from talking with the relevant bureaucrats.
Those who stick to these rules of thumb already fulfil the central prerequisites for playing a part in the political power game. Of course, successful political strategy formation is also a question of accurate timing, pointed messaging and the right gut feeling for future trends and developments. But these skills are not developed overnight or with a textbook, but through years of practical experience. In other words, they are acquired through playing practice.
Neue Zürcher Zeitung 08.02.2019