It seems more business people are turning their hands to politics. In a bid to give the Government a more “business friendly” complexion, Cameron’s most recent reshuffle saw several people who’ve had successful careers in the private sector being given important roles.
That set me thinking about what it takes to run a successful business of any size, and whether those attributes are applicable to running a ministry and it strikes me that the skill sets are remarkably similar. Here are what I think are the main skills necessary to run a company well which can also be applied to running a country:
• Be a clear thinker. A good leader (business or political) must be able to persuade investors that their strategy is sound. If you can’t you won’t be able to raise the funds you need, which could leave your company – or your country – staring into a financial precipice.
• Be a good communicator. You’ve got to be able to explain to your employees (or citizens) what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, so they understand what they’re being asked to do and can get behind the strategy.
• Be a good salesman. Running a successful company means being able to grow your client base. It’s the same with running a government: you need to be able to market your country, to help home grown companies sell their wares overseas and to promote inward investment.
• Be a good relationship builder. No company can pursue its business plan without building a strong network of customers and suppliers who trust you. You need to be just as good a diplomat as a foreign secretary to know who your allies are and identify who may need a bit of persuasion so you can get things done. If you fail you’ll be left isolated and will quickly burn through your capital, whether it’s financial or political.
• Be a good people manager. It’s crucial for any boss to be able to appoint the right people, who have individual ability but together form a strong team to deliver the strategy you have set out for your firm. You also need to have confidence in them so you can leave them to run parts of the business for you. It’s no different being a prime minister: you want competent people in your cabinet who can help you to achieve the goals you’ve set out in your election manifesto.
• Be a good trouble shooter. Having initiated a project a good boss needs to be able to oversee it as well as get the best out of the team who have been assigned to deliver it. You must be able to measure its success so that if something goes wrong you pick that up quickly and fix it. But you must also be strong enough to realise if a project is never going to work so that it doesn’t have any more time or money spent on it. Governments, and businesses, are littered with projects that failed or spiralled over budget because they were ill conceived or poorly managed.
• Be accountable for your failures. If you run an SME and your business plan fails you can’t just shrug off criticism and plough on regardless, because you’ll soon run your firm into the ground. We keep being told there is no Plan B for the economy. Well small business owners know that feeling too. They can’t afford one, so that’s why they need their Plan A to succeed and get them where they want to be. If your business is faltering, you can try and put a positive spin on it but you will still have to pay your mortgage and your employees are relying on you to pay theirs too.