News Flash: President Bush's approval ratings sink to an all-time low.
There is a tendency for second term U.S. presidents to suffer declines in popularity. No news there. But the malaise facing Bush's second term does have an unusual side -- most of the sniping right now is coming from Republicans. This not only has huge implications for Bush, but it can also teach the rest of us political animals, who toil in the corporate jungle, a very important lesson: It may sound strange, but the president has lost touch with his base, and all of us have to stay in touch with our bases or we may suffer the same fate.
The president had appeared to maintain his base of support across a broad spectrum of challenges that might have brought down a less-disciplined operator. Iraq, Katrina, stalled Social Security overhaul, investigations into a number of Republican Party leaders -- Nothing that happened on his watch seemed to stick to him personally. Bush seemed like the ultimate Teflon man.
Then along came the Harriet Miers nomination for the Supreme Court. Suddenly, Bush faced a landslide of criticism, including some sharp comments from right wingers. It's like they say -- when you lose Ann Coulter, you've probably lost the country. (Actually I don't know anyone who has ever said that, even Ms. Coulter herself, but you get the point...)
Which leads us to lesson number one -- your most loyal supporters, in politics or in the corporate world, can accept a certain amount of trouble coming from your direction. But what really sets them off is being taken for granted. The "nod" and "wink" policy that seemed to be at the heart of the Miers nomination managed to disenfranchise many of Bush's most loyal supporters.
It's very important not to surprise your strongest supporters. Take the extra step to give them advanced warning if you are about to do something that may trouble them. Take the time to fill them in about your decision and your rationale for reaching it. And give them a chance to give you feedback before they read about your decision in a company memo or the newspaper.
What are some other ways that we can lose our base? It can be remarkably easy to take our most loyal supporters for granted, to leap to the conclusion that they'll be with you no matter what happens. But do this at your own peril, as the Miers nomination suggests. It's better to adopt the philosophy that your base has to be won over on a regular basis. This will not only increase the loyalty of your people, it will also create a dialogue that will only make your work stronger.
I can hear what many of you are saying to yourselves: "What does this have to do with me? I don't have any supporters at work." Nothing could be further from the truth. You've got your bosses, the people who report to you, colleagues who look out for your back on a regular basis, vendors and customers who depend on you, etc. We all have a network of people who help us make it through the work day.
I don't want to be off-base here, but if you don't have a base to rely on, isn't it time that you built one?
"Few great men could pass personnel." -- Paul Goodman
From "Guerilla Travel Tactics" by Jay Conrad Levinson and Theo Brandt-Sarif (Amacom, 2004):