I’ve long thought the consultant-candidate relationship is like a (platonic) marriage. Don’t you? Consider the late-night chats, the budget talks. Its strength is based on rigorous honesty.
There are those inevitable moments of: “You just don’t understand me!” There are super highs and painful lows. You’re all in for better or for worse. Yes, it’s a relationship like no other.
And like other deeply committed partnerships that are subject to extreme stress, clearly establishing how you’ll work together – support one another – through the journey can be a gamechanger.
When working with consultants, candidates and consultant-candidate dyads, one of the first things we do is create an “engagement agreement.”
Yes, an “engagement agreement” because, remember, you’re entering into a political marriage. An engagement agreement creates an opportunity for all parties to share their aspirations, expectations, priorities, and guardrails to keep the relationship on course when the going gets tough — because it will.
Below are the key components to creating your own engagement agreement. Use these strategies to continuously assess and hold yourselves accountable along the way:
Spell out your shared vision.
What are you trying to achieve? Define it in six words or less. Start each meeting with your shared vision statement to keep you focused and in purpose.
Detail guiding principles.
What are your values: individually and for the campaign? Name three. What behaviors emote these values and what behaviors don’t?
Define your roles.
Who’s on first? Role ambiguity can derail any relationship – especially a campaign that operates at lightning speed. Clearly define each person’s scope, responsibilities and decision-making capabilities. Which decisions are unilateral, and which are collaborative?
Communication, how’s it going to happen?
How do you communicate? Define both the tone of your communications and logistically, like morning huddles, emails, text, et cetera.
Be open about your triggers.
What sets you each off? Triggers are internal, like self-doubt and fear, and others are situational – like lack of sleep, constrained resources, and media misrepresentation. How will you champion one another in moments of stress?
How will you handle conflict?
How do you manage conflict when it emerges? Engage resistance as a tool for learning and growth. Just like on the trail, voters’ discontent flags something isn’t working. Ask open-ended questions. Actively listen. Build empathy and source solutions along the way.
Inspiration: you’re going to need it.
How will you stay motivated for the long-game? Campaigns are like marathons with a whole lotta sprints along the way. Connect with what inspired you to dive into politics in the first place when you both need an added boost.
Create your own high fives.
Create a secret handshake or dance move to do together. Nothing boosts collaboration like a little levity and oxytocin-induced human connection.
Already full steam ahead? It’s not too late. In organizational psychology literature and the science of team dynamics, there are defining moments that shape the culture and cadence of our relationships: at the beginning and at intentional reflection points, like a mid-point hot-wash or biweekly check-in. Take the time and reset.
Keep your engagement agreement close. Refer to it in moments of strife (and celebration) of what you aspired toward when you were starry-eyed and bushy-tailed. The culture you create will permeate onto the trail, too.
Frieda K. Edgette (@friedakedgette) is principal of Novos Consulting, a full-service coaching and organizational strategy consultancy operating at the intersection of politics, innovation, and well-being. She is also founder of Courage to Run, the nation’s premier nonpartisan 5K series and civic leadership community committed to being healthy to lead effectively.