The Democrats will nominate Kamala Harris as Vice President this week. At the same time, there are more people that wanted the job and thought they had at least an outside chance than any of us imagine. Joe Biden needs to keep them engaged and needs to do that with emotional, rational and inspirational communication – as do you with people you do not select for plum assignments.
Who thought they had a chance?
The list of those thinking they had a chance is large. There are people that were on the final short list, on the long list, those directly considered, indirectly considered, thought they should be considered, contributed time, money or support to Biden in different ways. The point is that whether or not Biden actively considered them, there are a lot of people, female and male, who still thought they had an outside chance.
While some may be relieved, most are disappointed. Biden and team need to acknowledge and deal with those emotions first– for more than just the finalists. Biden has to notice, acknowledge and empathize with them, know that their disappointment makes sense, and understand how their feelings. People need to feel seen and heard before they can connect. Affirming that their feelings makes sense tells them Biden is still on their side. Digging into understand their feelings even better tells them Biden cares.
Biden started doing this by reaching out to the finalists himself, one-on-one to do what Alexander Burns describes as “the hard business of letting down the runners-up that he had come to value as allies and friends.” This was the right thing to do on all sorts of different levels. The general advice for an announcement cascade is to tell those emotionally impacted one-on-one first, then those directly impacted in a small group, then everyone else.
People want truth. They want truth from people that notice and acknowledge them, think they make sense and care about them. But they want truth. The truth will be different for different people not selected for VP now.
- Some were ready, but did not fit Biden’s particular criteria. Biden can help them understand that in a way that makes them walk away with their head held high in line with this being “a career elevation for everybody.”
- Some weren’t ready yet. Biden can help them understand what must change either in the world or in themselves for them to be the right choice in the future.
- Some are never going to be the right choice. Biden can help them understand why that is the case and how their strengths are more applicable in other roles.
Having connected emotionally, and hit them with the brutal hard truth, Biden needs to inspire them to move forward. On the one hand Biden needs their support. On the other hand, the country and world need their support. On still another hand, they need a path for their own further contribution for their own self-esteem.
This is where the levels of engagement come in.
- If Biden tells them what to do (or you tell people what to do,) the best you can ever hope for is compliance – a limiting concept.
- If Biden sells them on a different path for them, tests it with them, or gives them an initial idea to build on, he increases the likelihood of their contributions.
- If Biden co-creates the future with them, they will commit to the cause.
Let’s go a little deeper on committing to the cause. In this case, there’s a problem and an opportunity. A lot of people are committed to doing anything that can to make sure Trump does not have a second terms. For them, Trump is the problem. Others care about the programs the democratic party is pushing. For them, moving those programs forward is the opportunity.
In either case, it’s less about Biden than it is about Trump or the Democratic programs. The point is that Biden and you should focus less on getting people committed to him or you as the leader and more on getting them committed to the cause because the cause is more important than either themselves or the one wrong mistake Biden or you made in not picking them as VP.