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Pivot to the CenterPosted Wednesday, November 7, 2012
When incumbent presidents run for re-election, they usually win. Of the last 14 reelection bids, 10 were successful. Since 1996, every president has been reelected. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s perpetual reelection led to a constitutional amendment to limit presidents to two terms.
Non-incumbent politicians must capture the partisan base in the primaries. To win the general election, most politicians have to pivot to the center to capture non-partisan votes. The most effective politicial leaders govern for the common good, usually requiring a second pivot even further to the center.
In this presidential election, Obama was able to stay near the center politically. Romney had to execute a difficult pivot to the center. Jacob Weisberg describes Romney’s campaign as a failed pivot to the center:
Romney is not a right-wing extremist. To win the nomination, though, he had to feign being one, recasting himself as “severely conservative” and eschewing the reasonableness that made him a successful, moderate governor of the country’s most liberal state. . . . Romney’s pandering to the base made it possible for the Obama campaign to portray him as a right-wing radical from the start of the campaign. Fear that he didn’t have the base locked down kept Romney from moving smoothly to the center once he had secured the nomination.
A move to the center is difficult. Politicians who espouse extreme views in the primary but switch to more moderate views for the general election are accused of flip-flopping. They appear to be inauthentic.
As a leader, you have to practice principled moderation. As you advance to functional manager, you have to pivot to center, starting to address issues like budget, efficiency and change management. Many of your former peers will resent you.
If you move from functional manager to general manager, you have to broaden your perspective yet again. You will focus on the bottom line, not just functional excellence. You will balance operations, finance, marketing and human resources. Your peers from your former function will resent you.
These pivots to the center will open you to charges of arrogance, lack of authenticity and selling out. As you pivot to the center, you may appear to be, well, a politician.
To ease your pivot to the center as a leader, I offer three suggestions:
Expand your horizon. You will alienate a few people to serve many people. You will sacrifice your personal comfort to serve the greater good. Just as the best politicians move past partisan appeal to win a general election and govern for the common good, you need to move past beyond a limited perspective and your old peers to lead at the next level. Decide to make the sacrifice before you accept the management position.
Take time for sense-making. A pivot to the center is a major career change. Give yourself time to make sense of the transition.
Get coaching. Get objective, independent advice on how to make a successful pivot to the center. Mentors may help a bit, but coaching is better. Get a leadership coach for the change from technical specialist to functional manager. Get an executive coach for the pivot from functional manager to general manager.
A pivot to the center is one of the toughest moves you can make. Growth and change are always tough, but often rewarding. When you have the opportunity, make your pivot to the center to become the best leader you can be.