Colorado Governor On The Biggest Things Politicians Can Learn From Business

John Hickenlooper

Photo: flickr/worldeconomicforum

Government, particularly state government, is not known for its efficiency. The word that comes to mind is bureaucracy, and the experience people think of is an interminable wait or bad service in a drab office. Current Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was himself an entrepreneur, he built a brew pub into a business spanning three states. He got into politics after one of his employees suggested he run for mayor, and won while pledging to apply his entrepreneurial approach to government. 

He told the Harvard Business Review’s Eric Hellweg about some of the difficulties he’s had putting those promises into action. There’s an entrenched culture you have to fight:

Most people, when they get elected, they hire the people that helped get them elected because they think they’ll help cover their back. But they aren’t managers. They’ve never been trained. They don’t have the experience, so you have risk adverse people who grew up where there’s no benefit to taking a risk. There’s only downside. So we brought in a talented group of people from all walks of life — not just business — but not one was a political appointee. 

And there’s an attitude that’s prevents things from getting things done, Hickenlooper says: 

Oh man. In government they love to attack each other. People get so dug in with their positions and they end up with a self-interest that is about protecting that position no matter what. To get business done, you have to get people to expand their sense of self-interest and then get those self-interests to overlap. 

He says that the most important lesson he learned in business, which he continues to apply, is how important a leader’s mood is. If you come into the office in a bad mood, the entire staff is in one within in hour. 

So even when things are going poorly, you have to be relentlessly positive. It rubs off on everyone else, motivates people, and leads to better results.  

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