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JFK cut his own road to prominence

by on
in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

John F. Kennedy had many advantages when he first ran for elected office in 1946, including money, charm, wit and good looks.

But Kennedy also decided to buck the status quo. His approach raised him to national prominence.

Here are the guidelines he used:
  1. Create your own power base. Rejecting the slow grind of the Democratic machine, the 28-year-old ran for a congressional seat against open hostility from the local party.

    People told Kennedy he couldn’t win. He bet they were wrong.

    Kennedy believed in short speeches and lots of interaction, using his father’s money to richly provision house parties and teas so he could meet the neighbors. Afterward, he pressed them into service as volunteers.

  2. Put in the hours. Running against the established party organization, Kennedy figured he’d have to start campaigning much earlier than most candidates. He began in fall 1945, an entire year before the election, rising before dawn and stumping late into the evening.

    Later, running for the Senate, he started two years before the election.

  3. Hire “sherpas.” As a virtual stranger in the congressional district where he first ran for office, Kennedy hired local political operatives who became devoted to him. They took him into tenements where other politicians were hardly ever seen.

  4. Disarm your rivals with wit. Kennedy looked for comedy or irony in situations and often poked fun at himself. When his opponents bragged at forums about overcoming poverty, Kennedy remarked: “I do seem to be the only one here who did not come up the hard way.”

  5. Ask about problems and solve them. The candidate focused on issues important to voters in his district including a shortage of housing and jobs. Kennedy made it his mission to ease life for the working class.
—Adapted from John F. Kennedy on Leadership, John A. Barnes, Amacom.

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