Lessons Learnt From The 2019 Election Campaign

A review of the election campaign to understand the lessons in leadership and management that it offers, read here.


India is the world’s largest democracy. With 2019 being an election year, we witnessed the system in action first-hand with the biggest democratic spectacle in recent times.

But are there business lessons to be learned from it? Let's review the election campaign to understand the lessons in leadership and management that it offers:

Pre-poll Alignment: The latest Lok Sabha elections saw multiple parties coming together to run a common election campaign, based on their shared visions and ideologies, in order to reach the maximum numbers of voters across the nation. In organizational sciences, this resembles joint ventures, mergers, and acquisitions. The creation of a political coalition is similar to creating an industry cartel; all parts pool resources and efforts towards a shared end-goal. Understanding how different political alliances fared in the recent elections can help business leaders drive more successful corporate mergers, acquisitions, and business partnerships.

Competitive Strategy: Each party was trying to reach out to prospective voters in the same way that a company reaches out to its customers – by strategically targeting different demographics. The winning alliance also managed to turn the tide against its most prominent opponent by turning the latter’s key selling point into a major weakness.

This is a good example of how companies can formulate their marketing strategy by analysing and understanding different aspects of their competitors and the current market mood. If a company implements such a strategy effectively, it can convert its weakness into strength and its opponents' strength into a weakness – resulting in people preferring its products and services.

However, what works for one entity might not work for another. Trying to replicate an opponent’s strategy – without tailoring it to fit one’s requirements and approach – can backfire and result in more being lost than gained. This holds true for political parties and businesses.

Thought Leadership: Thought leadership is all about the cognitive restructuring of thoughts to make it more positive and motivational for you and your people – and threatening to your opponents. In this particular election campaign, the leader of the winning coalition demonstrated impressive thought leadership by turning demeaning slogans into badges of honour. Thinking constructively was all it took to hit the right note with the people and highlighted how leaders can construct and reconstruct the reality for their audiences.

Companies sometimes lose their market share because they end up prioritising their competition over the needs of their customers. We have seen this play out in the long-drawn market battle between Pepsi and Coca Cola. The latter won it because it was able to move beyond taking potshots at Pepsi. 

Role of Cognitive Bias: What was curious to note in this election campaign was the kind of subtle messages that different camps sent out. The winning coalition was full of confidence and swagger from the very beginning, even outlining how many seats it planned to win. The remaining parties seemed content to simply participate. The final results left no doubt who the Indian populace wanted at the helm.

Such an approach is not dissimilar to campaigns where a company creates availability heuristics in the minds of its target audiences. Patanjali did it in India with its nationalistic focus, while Apple did it on a global level by creating an aspirational, high-value image for its products.

Communication Strategy: Any election campaign is about reaching out to the voters. The winning coalition did this successfully by varying its communication content and style according to different national and regional needs. The losing parties struggled because their message was neither flexible nor effective beyond their conventional target demographics.

In business, the CEO's communication strategies play a major role in organizational transformation. Transformative leaders such as Lou Gerstner at IBM, John Kilts at Gillette, Jack Welch at GE, and Herb Kelleher at South West Airlines etc. all had effective communication strategies in place to amplify their core brand message.

Leaders are the Faces of their Parties: The winning coalition’s electoral campaign revolved around its leader and his accomplishments. The others were found completely lacking in this department. With no clear prime ministerial candidate from the opposition, people ultimately cast their vote for the one leader that they were certain about. This indicates the importance of clear and strong leadership in running a complex and highly-diversified organization. At the end of the day, people want to feel safe under a strong leader, whether in a country or in an organization.

A clear communication strategy with strong leadership brings a sense of optimism. In the field of management, CEOs that accomplish that are the ones that drive continued success and growth for their organizations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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