Why are you running?

This post is part of a ten-part series on preparing to run for local office. For the rest of the series, check out the links in the introductory post

A campaign maxim that has been thrown around for decades is that there are two kinds of people who run for office: those that want to do something important and those that want to be someone important. 

Those who want to do something important will have an infinitely easier time putting together a message about why they're running.

I won't get into a ton of detail today about how to put together your campaign's message, but you can contact me here if you have questions about it. A pre-requisite to determining your message is knowing why you're running. Why is it important to know that? 

In 1979, Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination for President. In one of his first interviews, Kennedy was asked by Roger Mudd of CBS why he wanted to be president. Kennedy hemmed and hawed and made it clear that he didn’t have a reason - he just wanted to be President. He needed to have a reason. In the following months, his campaign faltered as he failed to articulate clearly why he wanted to be President. 

Candidates should think through why they want to run for office - independent of the pressing issues of the day, which hot button issue voters are concerned about or what positions you may have to take to get a party nomination. Why do you really want to run? 

The "Toyota Five Why's" is a problem solving strategy I think can be useful in determining why you're running for office. 

According to Taiichi Ohno, pioneer of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s, "Having no problems is the biggest problem of all." Ohno saw a problem not as a negative, but, in fact, as "a kaizen (continuous improvement) opportunity in disguise." Whenever one cropped up, he encouraged his staff to explore problems first-hand until the root causes were found. "Observe the production floor without preconceptions," he would advise. "Ask ‘why' five times about every matter."

He used the example of a welding robot stopping in the middle of its operation to demonstrate the usefulness of his method, finally arriving at the root cause of the problem through persistent enquiry:

"Why did the robot stop?"
The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.

"Why is the circuit overloaded?"
There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.

"Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?"
The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.

"Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?"
The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.

"Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?"
Because there is no filter on the pump. (toyota.com)

So, why are you running for office? Why...why...why...why? Ask yourself until you get to the root cause, not just the political answer that U.S. Senate candidates give and you unwittingly mimic. Once you have it, you can build a message around that reason.

But whether or not its central to your campaign, it's important to have this answer in mind because it will motivate you and your supporters throughout the campaign and will communicate some genuineness to your candidacy. 

One final note - it may be tempting to go through this exercise while watching television or in a work meeting to save time. I'd caution against that. Take the time to find a place you can think - a coffee shop, while out on a hiking trail, in your home office - whatever works for you, and give this serious consideration. 

If you would like to get more campaign tips, you can check out "Running for Officemagazine, subscribe to the blog or connect with me on twitter or LinkedInYou can also get an campaign tips emailed to you once a week by signing up to to the right of this post.