How to Run for Office: Building Your Kitchen Cabinet
by Natasha Smith, User Experience and Communications Manager, National Democratic Training Committee, @traindems
Why you need one and who should — and should not — be included in your inner circle
Your kitchen cabinet is a strong asset to have in a political campaign. Whether you’re running for Congress or your local school board, having people with different points of view giving you advice can be enormously helpful. Every successful business has an advisory board, and your campaign should be no different.
Typically, a kitchen cabinet is made up of close family, trusted friends, and people whose opinions you highly value. Start off with a list of people whom you think would give great advice. Trust us, once people hear you’re running for office they’ll be eager to give you their opinions. And they won’t necessarily have the best advice. You’ll want to establish which people you’re going to listen to before you even launch your campaign.
But who should be in that inner circle? Here’s a list to help you decide who should — and should not — be in your kitchen cabinet.
The Realist: just as a campaign needs positivity, it needs a dose of reality. You need someone who will provide the most objective outlook on the state of your campaign and give you a realistic sense of the obstacles your campaign might be facing. He or she will help you set realistic, achievable goals and bolster your campaign’s success.
The Seasoned Campaigner: someone with previous experience in political campaigns can bring a lot to the table. This person will likely have insights that many others will not, and might even have valuable connections to other political operatives that may be extremely handy in a pinch. However, campaigns have changed with evolving technology, so be sure that your seasoned campaigner has adapted with the times and isn’t pressing you to use outdated methods just because they were successful in the past.
The Devil’s Advocate: you want someone who’s not afraid to argue against you and challenge your point of view. Groupthink, the common frame of mind a group of individuals who work together can fall into, can be deadly to campaigns. If you get stuck in the same mindset that goes unchecked by differing opinions, your campaign can and will suffer.
The Moral Supporter: campaigning can be brutal. As the candidate, it’s easy to start feeling defeated when the going gets tough. That’s why it is crucial for your kitchen cabinet to have someone you can lean on and provide a positive outlook. This person can provide a well-rounded view of the state of things and look for the positives in the current situation.
The One With No Campaign Experience: on the other side, people with absolutely no experience in politics can provide surprising input. These people will think outside of the box because they have no experience to draw upon. They can provide surprising input by thinking outside of the box and making connections that someone who’s spent years and years working in politics might not make. New, fresh ways of thinking should always be welcome, and you can easily find this quality in someone who was not worked on a campaign before.
The Monopolizer: some people believe they have the best ideas in the world, that their knowledge is unparalleled by anyone else, and that after they state their opinions, it’s not even worth debating because they’re undeniably right. These are the wrong kind of people for your campaign. These people will monopolize any conversation with their opinions and beat down discourse if they don’t agree with what the other person is saying. Avoid monopolizers. They establish and reinforce groupthink, which is can be deadly to your campaign.
The Collector: this person is on board just for the story. There’s always risk of having someone join your team just so that he or she can brag about the experience to his or her friends. People like this might have some decent input, but ultimately their goal is self-serving and not in the best interest of your campaign.
The Backdoor Politician: while having someone with campaign experience in your kitchen cabinet can be incredibly helpful, always pick your political operatives with care. Unfortunately, due to the nature of politics, you might encounter a political operative who will approach you under the false pretense of helping your campaign and ultimately end up harming your chances of winning. Not to say all politicians are inherently evil — that’s not at all the case. Just be dubious of politicians that approach you; if you have no history with that person, he or she might be trying to sabotage your campaign. Choose your advisors wisely.
The Dreamer: sometimes reaching for the stars isn’t helpful. While this kind of person can be helpful during an initial brainstorming session, you need people who can keep their feet planted firmly on the ground and help you set attainable goals. It’s important to not aim too low, but aiming too high can lead to disappointment. Keep a well-rounded team that helps you set realistic goals.
That One Friend or Family Member: this might apply to a lot of different of people within your inner circle, but don’t let this stop you from recruiting people close to you. These people should have your best interests in mind, which means giving you clear and honest feedback when you need it. However, there might be some family members or friends who are too scared to give you their brutally honest opinion because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. As considerate as they might be, this does not help your campaign and can hurt your chances of winning the election.
It’s important to remember that the people in your kitchen cabinet should not be motivated by access to power, money, or influence should you win your election. Those in your inner circle should be motivated by an eagerness to help you succeed and enact the change that you want to see happen in your realm of politics.
Remember, we’re always in your corner. We want your campaign to succeed and are here to help.