BestinBrussels.eu will publish a Top 100 Lobbyist list in spring 2019.
To be an effective lobbyist in Brussels requires having an in-depth knowledge around politics of the EU, the legislative process and the key people involved. As reported in ‘The Ideal Lobbyist’ in the Journal of Communication Management, skills such as listening, observation, and relationship-building are really important. For instance, while a lobbyist meeting with a policy maker will certainly want to use the opportunity to actively present a case, listening can be as important as talking. Language matters a great deal in politics, and the precise choice of words by a legislator is important during any encounter. Lobbyists need to listen to policy makers carefully in order to decode the (often subtle) messages they are receiving. Lobbyists also use their analytical skills to decide the best time, place and approach to use when meeting a political leader.
However, as we have discovered over many years as headhunters, the key success factor for recruiting successful lobbyists, personality is essential for any given role. Knowledge and skills can be acquired and strengthened but personality is deep-rooted.
To support team effectiveness within high performance lobbying teams, understanding of individual working styles is important. When advocacy teams work together, each individual brings a unique set of knowledge, skills, and personality traits to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of traits affect how teams interact and how productive they are. Though we may share things in common with other individuals, at the end of the day, everyone is their own person and can bring different things to the table, which is why diversity is so important among a high performance lobbying team. By hiring people with different personalities, creativity, delivery and performance can be enhanced. Whereas one person may be great at generating exciting, out of the box ideas, another may have the patience and necessary experience to execute it; so it is essential to play on each individual’s strengths and collaborate with others in the team.
Lobbying is all about influencing decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. When you talk to corporate affairs and association leaders how they measure top lobbying successes the response is usually being consulted on policies before they are drafted. For lobbyists to secure a place in the room having a trusted conversation with policy-makers requires special personality traits. In our experience people who are able to bring about change at a very high level commonly share three important personality attributes; trustworthiness; proactivity and resilience. These are attributes that clients should look for in their lobbyists.
Trust is a particularly important commodity for top lobbyists. Individuals who score high on trust generally believe others’ intentions to be benevolent. Those scoring low on this facet tend to be cynical and view others as suspicious, dishonest, or dangerous. The best advocates are trusted not only by their colleagues but most importantly by the people they aim to influence. Any successful lobbyist will depend upon his or her personal integrity and credibility. Integrity requires going beyond simply adhering to a Code of Conduct but it also goes much further than this, implying that the individual lobbyist has a set of personal values which ensures that he or she will not engage in any lobbying activities with which they are not comfortable. As a Member of the European Parliament once told the author: “I need to know I can trust a lobbyist and that I am not being set-up for a fall.”
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
As noted in ‘The Ideal Lobbyist’ “In a consultancy, you will systematically be dealing with different clients on different issues but with really the same groups of decision makers. If you ever mislead an MEP or official – even once – you are basically out of business. You will very quickly ruin your reputation. On the other hand, if you make a point of bringing valuable information to a Member of the European Parliament or to the Commission, then you can very quickly establish a strong reputation for being useful or for having significant expertise on issues or for being trustworthy. Then you will be able to approach the same group of MEPs on behalf of four or five different clients with different issues, as you will have an established working relationship with those decision makers.”
People with a proactive personality have a tendency to take action to change things, show initiative, and persevere until the desired change has occurred. Proactive behaviour involves acting in advance of a future situation, rather than just reacting or waiting for something to happen. Proactive lobbyists do not need to be asked to act, nor do they require detailed instructions. They know that if their organisation does not engage with policy-makers early, then the rules will be written for them, without them.
“The future depends on what you do today.”
Psychological resilience is defined as an individual’s ability to successfully cope with adversity. People who demonstrate resilience tend to have optimistic attitudes and positive emotionality; they are, in practice, able to effectively counter negative emotions and situations with positive emotions. Not everybody has the inner toughness or determination to handle being rejected or slapped down by policy-makers. Resilient advocates persevere and can maintain passion for long-term goals, working persistently towards challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite negative feedback, adversity, plateaus in progress, or failure. The tougher the sector’s policy and communication challenges, the more resilience is required from its advocates.
“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”