Nominations as Proxy
by Leslie Gross
Nominations might just be the most intriguing yet least understood aspect of U.S. Presidential transitions. Even the apolitical can learn from their unwritten rules, situational dynamics, and behind the scenes maneuverings. Each coronation is unique, with countless factors shaping their trajectory. Guided by both substance and circumstance, nominations are so layered the public sees only the glacial tip.
The first phrase every successful nominee learns is, “If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed...”
Navigating beyond that surface yields valuable insights. During the past four Presidential transitions, I’ve served in various roles, from advocate to architect, change agent to protector of the status quo. In each scenario, we identified levers with the greatest impact on political momentum, narrative, and outcome. These scenarios provided both an insider’s and outsider’s primer on the mechanics of political ascendency. In turn, they also produced a heightened respect for the processes, people, and institutions shaping these campaigns.
Alongside that respect are an enduring set of principles, useful to any strategist. These lessons hold value for executives, advocates, and anyone else managing human capital and systems change. They should resonate with every leader charged with maximizing outcomes and building resiliency into organizational efforts.
1. Circumstance Is Everything
Just as important as “the who” and “the how” of nominations is the when. What are the presiding political controversies? What are the other campaigns, scandals, or events competing for resources and airtime? What is the latest narrative about your nominee, constituency, or campaign? This assessment is the political lodestar that can predict the opposition and opportunities of any effort.
2. Process Can Kill Substance
By mapping a broad constituency universe for any nomination, you create a reliable call sheet for who needs notice at each stage of the process. Failure to do so can strain stakeholder relationships, stall momentum, and undermine cohesive messaging. Who has the standing, constituency, or temporal relevance to impact your nomination? Correctly identifying that broad universe will determine the “how” of any successful rollout.
3. You Don’t Know Until You Know
Insert cliché here about chickens, counting, and the perils of hubris. This mantra reminds operatives to always lead with integrity, treat every interaction as if it’s the most important, and give speculation the credence it deserves — none. The first phrase every successful nominee learns is, “If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed.” This dose of humility is a reminder that so many factors can derail even the most promising nomination up until the final vote.
Of course, these cautions aren’t unique to nominations. Each of these rules apply in variable contexts — for the organization trying to anoint a new leader or recover from scandal, for the social campaign trying to gain momentum, or for the agency, unveiling a signature policy initiative. Like nominations, each of these efforts benefits from situational awareness, calculated presentation, and sustained effort. Every nomination has its own story and along with it, an abundance of lessons for anyone navigating change. One only needs to look beyond the surface.
Leslie Gross is a former litigator, U.S. Senate Chief Counsel, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the Obama Administration. As a founding Partner of Advantage Insights, she provides strategic counseling to organizations and individuals globally, in both the public and private sector. You can learn more about her work at www.lesliemgross.com and follow her on Twitter @LeslieGrossJr.