The presidential campaign is an inspirational model for any business that wants to touch people
I have found it hard to think about anything other than the inauguration of President Obama this week.
I first became aware of him when my mother told me there had been an extraordinary young man speaking at the Democratic Convention in 2004. Subsequently I read both of his books and felt moved by his highly articulate and interesting account of his journey to the Senate. A journey that stretched from Hawaii to Indonesia to Kenya.
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of both the symbolism of his election and the shift in political style that he represents. Everyone can find some inspiration in his oratory but, equally powerfully, we can find inspiration in his actions.
There are three ideas that I keep coming back to in all aspects of my working life. The first is how Obama used technology on a scale and with a sophistication that I can’t remember in any corporate or political campaign. He has shown that you can’t ignore the plethora of technologies that increasingly dominate our lives if you want to build effective working relationships.
The internet allowed him to harness new groups of people, raise massive funds from individuals and listen to the mood of the electorate in real time. Whatever business you are in, Obama’s multi-platform presence is impressive and has raised the bar in terms of how any brand should communicate with its customers. Now more than ever all businesses have to think hard about integrating technology into the heart of the organisation. Failure to do so could have terrible consequences.
The second idea is perhaps the most important for retailers – working with your local community and feeling some responsibility for those people and places immediately around you. Obama shunned the highly paid legal job he was offered and worked as a community organiser in Chicago. His example seems to me to raise a fundamental issue for the world of retail, where debates about the high street and preserving localness are always on the agenda.
Perhaps there is room in this upside-down world of ours to challenge how we connect our society again and the role that retail can play? We should question everything from how we source our products and the international communities we work with through to the causes a local store supports.
Finally, what touches and impresses me most about Obama is the ability that he has to inspire and encourage. He drives people not only to be ambitious for themselves but also for our wider society. He reminds me that having a clear and inspiring vision is fundamental to running any successful organisation. In these maudlin times this is even more important.
Obama is surrounding himself with an array of equally smart and ambitious people to help him in this vision – to my mind a sign of real strength is a leader who does not feel threatened by working with the very best in the market, but instead has people challenging him and keeping things fresh.
I challenge anyone not to find something of relevance in this exceptional man and how he operates.
Martha Lane Fox is a director of Marks & Spencer and founder of Lucky Voice