Positioning Women to Win (2006)

Lesson 2: Be Collaborative in Private, Be Decisive in Public

There was universal agreement among staffs and consultants that women candidates, whether incumbents or challengers, made decisions differently than men candidates. Women place a greater value on arriving at a decision by consensus. Significant differences between successful governors and candidates for governor can be found in the way they made decisions and how they implemented them.

Trust the Pros, Delegate and Don’t Micro-Manage

Seasoned governors set up an internal decision-making process and abided by it. They challenged their experts and encouraged their teams to debate and discuss, but did not second-guess them. Then, they executed decisions as agreed, displaying clarity and precision that underscored their authority.

Conversely, challengers were routinely accused of micro-managing campaign decisions, responding to the last argument made and changing their minds.

“Typically, women run their campaigns by consensus. There’s a vote around the table. Depending on the campaign, the driver has the same weight of vote as the pollster,” said one exasperated media consultant.

Another consultant observed that “You really have to rely on your staff a lot more and trust that the reason you’ve hired these people is because they know what they’re doing.”

Candidates substituting their judgments for the team’s were acting against their own interests: “I wrote a plan and I wrote a budget but she would never go by it because….she was supposed to dictate to the lower people what to do,” lamented another campaign manager.

Incumbent governors’ teams kept the discussion in-house; non- incumbent campaigns exposed too much decision-making turmoil to outsiders, feeding the buzz that the candidate wasn’t up to the job.

Don’t Re-Run Your Last Race

Several challengers failed to realize the quantum leap – in personal campaign skills, quality and experience of advisors, sophistication of communication and the amount of money required – to run for governor.

Or if she and her team did appreciate the giant step, it was often too late.

“I don’t think she made the transition… to what it takes to run for governor,” said one communications director. Other unsuccessful campaigns made similar observations.

Non-incumbent candidates appeared to need two elements for a solid organization: continuity of previous campaign staff and the addition of new expertise as the new challenge warranted. Most campaigns had one, but not the other.

Governor Napolitano’s team enabled her to transition from attorney general to governor without much alteration. She had an experienced team in place, which made a huge difference because her team knew her well. Her team also contained veterans of other successful governor’s races who could point to and prepare her for the new demands.

Absent that kind of seasoned guidance, candidates defaulted to focusing on yard signs – they wanted ones “like they had last time,” or variations on the last successful slogan.

In fact, it was rare that a non-incumbent candidate prepared adequately to mount a credible, well-financed campaign for governor. They repeated tactics from the past, rather than developing new strategies. And, consequently, they were confined to re-running their last races.

For Candidates

  1. Debate Internally. Because women often want to reach consensus in decision-making, discussion and debate is a given. But that process should not be a public one. Too often a losing campaign’s internal divisions became public and exposed a less than cohesive operation. Keep the debate inside the family.
  2. Decide Externally. Once a strategic or policy decision is reached, the candidate should be the one to deliver the news to voters, whether via press conference, in a debate or online in an email. These moments are opportunities to demonstrate authority and command.
  3. Establish A Chain Of Command. Making important decisions means getting the best information from inside your kitchen cabinet. Decide who will gather the opinions, lead the debate and present your alternatives. Then follow that process and abide by it.
  4. Hire People Who Have Been Where You Want to Go. Taking the step up to a gubernatorial race requires professional advisors who have run and won races for governor; it requires a new playbook and a much bigger budget.
  5. Study Past Governors’ Races. Universities and partisan organizations often offer debriefing conferences on their state’s gubernatorial races and some publish transcripts of the meetings. The scrutiny, magnitude of the decisions, scope of issues and size of staff will make real the challenge ahead. Add the experience you need, but keep the core team.