Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Failure to Connect

Build Relationships… Not Only Roads!


By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.


Without exception, all the UPP candidates and the UPP political machinery need to examine what happened last week. Why did seven of them lose? There are many answers… here is one: They failed to connect with individual voters!

I heard this story from a voter in my area… who despite the story below voted the UPP way. She said that in the years prior to this election, the UPP candidate had visited them – maybe once. This is a candidate who had narrowly lost in the 2004 election. Then about six months ago he came to her house and sat down at her table. Though he was very formal, she thought that he responded well to her questions. At the end he asked for her and her husband’s support. She indicated to him that while she would consider voting for him, he would have to come by again and talk with her husband and ask him for his support.

The candidate promised to do so… but never returned. She also indicated that the candidate is a frequent visitor to her neighbors who live in a house across the street from her… And on many occasions… maybe weekly… the candidate would pass by her front porch… to go to and from his friends across the street. And each time that he passed her on her porch or in her yard, he did not say “good morning”, “good afternoon” or anything at all! He totally ignored her.

Now imagine that… he wanted her support… and he wanted her husbands vote! Yet… he ignored both of them.

Very close to the election… he passed by… trying to engage them… She was quite incensed… that at the very least he could not even remember her name!

This same candidate, who I cast my X for… was dismissed from my front yard by my 94 year old mother… when he came by a couple of months ago. After finding out who he was… she let him have it! She indicated to him that in the last six years (prior to the 2004 election and since), she had never met him. He had never come by our house… he had taken us for granted. She did not want to see him… not now!

According to her, she subsequently did put her X beside his name… but her vote was not for him… it was for Baldwin Spencer and the UPP.

After the election results were announced many of his close supporters were in shock… as were many other people across the nation. I was not! My mother certainly was not.

Those who were surprised by the results claimed that “he had done so much for the community. He had paved the roads, put up street lights, fixed the basketball court, developed the community…”

Yes he might have. But he failed to do the most important thing! He had not paved the way for people to related to him. He did not position himself as a beacon of light for people to see. He did not establish any connection with the young people who played basketball.

As much as I hate to quote the man who beat him… I am propelled to… because of the truth of the statement he made. He said that to win your seat, “You must build relationships… not roads.”

Every UPP candidate who lost… and those who almost lost… including the big guns… in some cases failed to build and in most cases failed to maintain close relationships with the people! Not relationships with the communities… But relationships with the people… the individuals… who individually cast their ballots.

Our candidate from my constituency had failed to build close relationships… had failed to come across as personable… had failed to connect at an individual level with the people… the individuals who he wanted to cast their X’s for him.

He was distant… he did not talk much… he was normally not smiling… he appeared out of touch with the people… At least that was my assessment – before the election!

On the day of the election, I arrived at the polling booth just after 6:00 a.m. He was there. He looked serious… He was unsmiling… he looked unapproachable. On the other hand, his competitor, the man who beat him, came by at around 7:45. He was smiling ‘cutely’, shaking people’s hands (he greeted me and shook mine… even though he knows what side I am on!), saluting people, exchanging bantering remarks with people on both sides of the divide. Win, loss or draw… he was putting the best face forward… and letting everyone see that!

Again… the ALP candidate was focused on the relationships he had built… and even at the 11th hour he appeared to be still building relationships… or at least massaging them!

Too many of our UPP candidates believed it was enough to sit in their ministerial positions and build roads and put up lights! Two years into the last UPP administration, I warned one of the key UPP leaders that he was too busy governing… and not paying enough attention to his community… to the people who put him there!

Governing… but not politicking! Good governance… but poor politics. That is a recipe for disaster

I am a clinical psychologist… not a political psychologist… But I dare you to show me the difference when it comes to understanding people’s behaviors. Even within the context of business… every marketing manager, sales manager and business leader knows (or should know) that the focus today is on customer relationships. They know that every sale – is an individual sale. Therefore… every good ad… every successful marketing campaign is directed at the individual person. It is called relationship marketing!

As a matter of fact one of the key approaches that is taking the world by storm has changed from emotional intelligence to social intelligence… the ability to emotionally and intelligently connect with the people. It is described as the new science of human relationships.

Successful managers know that it is through the power of their staff that they get things done… therefore… the new focus on management today is relationship management… management that is focused – not on policies or processes…. but on people!

In politics, people… at least Antiguan people… do not vote based on how many roads you build in their communities. They do not vote based on how much electricity lights you put up. They do not vote based on how many basketballs courts are in their community - even if they are fenced and painted yellow and green! Nope@

People vote based on the individual or family relationships they have with the politician. Rightly or wrongly – it is a fact of life in Antigua. Yes… they like increased electricity in their community… but what they want to know is what the politician is doing about the huge electric bill they have to pay monthly… or the high price of gasoline… People want to know… “What have you done for ME, lately? …. so that I can do something for you… and then in return you do something more for me.”

Yes… yes… yes… Some would say that we should be focused on national development… But all national development must translate into personal development and empowerment for the individual voter! Communities don’t vote… individuals do!

Additional, we have failed… the UPP has failed to help people translate how national development projects and how community development projects translate into individual and personal benefits to them.

How does the school meals program benefit the individual or their family? How will the new car park benefit the hotel worker who lives in Bolans and works at Jolly beach? How does the new hospital impact the farmer from All Saints or the fisherman from Point? How does the income tax structure impact the teacher from Five Islands?

Politicians need to translate all of these national and community development projects into individual benefits… They must paint a picture… they must tell the story… they must make the connection… 

And they must make the connection through the relationships that they have built… those that they must re-build and the new ones that they now have to construct – with all the people… natives and non-nationals. And, they must do so long before the next election comes around.

Failure to connect…. No… Continued failure to connect and foster and maintain good relationships with the individual voter… will translate into failure for the UPP.