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What the K-State Student Body Election Can Teach U.S. Politicians
By Tom Matson, Senior Director of Executive Leadership: Gallup
Last fall, I had the chance to watch the presidential debates with my two teenagers. The debates started cordially, but of course shifted very quickly to the negative. My son picked up on this and asked me, “Why are they only focused on what’s wrong rather than what’s right?” It was a great question and one we should all be asking.
Imagine what it would be like if our politicians focused more on their strengths rather than on attacking their opponents’ weaknesses.
Kansas State University recently put this concept into action in its own campus political debates. The university asked student body candidates to focus on their strengths -- not harp on each other’s weaknesses.
And by strengths, Kansas State means the specific unique talents each student possesses based on the Clifton StrengthsFinder. K-State is a strengths-based campus, meaning it partners with Gallup to give freshmen students the StrengthsFinder assessment, which identifies their top five talents and provides suggestions for how to capitalize on those talents to achieve personal, academic, and career improvement.
To that end, Kansas State incorporated strengths into its recent student body presidential and vice presidential debates. The debates were “a chance to give people an opportunity to look at the candidates through their strengths and help the candidates see their own strengths,” said K-State student Kristen Burton in The Collegian, K-State’s student newspaper.
The moderators asked questions that focused on the candidate’s strengths and how he or she would use the strength, if elected.
Here’s how The Collegian reported on what happened at the debate:
For presidential candidate Kyle Nuss, senior in architectural engineering, his strengths of achiever, competition, learner, focus and positivity were important.
“Achievers” are those who work hard to achieve a goal while “Focus” refers to the ability to keep a goal on task and follow through. Finally, those with “Positivity” are all about being upbeat and positive.
Nuss’ vice presidential running mate Ariel Mendiola, junior in sociology, cites Nuss’ “Positivity” strength as his most important. “His positivity kept us going and would always keep us going,” Mendiola said. “He kept our eyes on the prize.”
Read what else candidates had to say about their strengths here.
The student body reacted very positively to the debates. “I think strengths are good indicators of people’s qualities, and students can see what they bring to the positions,” one student told The Collegian.
Focusing on candidates’ strengths shifts the political discourse from a negative battle over who is worse to a positive conversation about what each individual can achieve. Imagine how inspirational it would be if the next time you heard a local or federal politician talking about how he or she would use his or her strengths to grow the economy or increase productivity. This is the type of political conversation or debate I would be proud to watch with my children. One that would create a vision for what kind of leader they can be in the future.
Tom Matson is the Senior Director of Executive Leadership for the Gallup Education Practice. With a focus on executive coaching and more than 10 years of consulting experience, he is committed to challenging leaders to become authentic and fully live out their strengths each day in a healthy and productive way. Matson earned his bachelor’s degree in communications and master’s degree in organizational leadership.