In business, it's often said that success is largely dependent on creating strong and pliable personal networks that can be the source of advice, mentorship, and even future sales.
The same cannot necessarily be said of politics, where no matter how much you may network or scratch someone else's back, no golden path to the top is ever assured. And so it is that last week's favored candidate for Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy (R., California), is now out of the running. McCarthy was considered the favorite to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner, who will leave his post at the end of October. The Republican caucus had planned to select a new leader on Thursday, for a full vote in the lower chamber later in October. The vote has been put off until an unspecified later date.
Yet McCarthy's quick rise and fall is not just an example of how rapidly things can change in politics. There's a lesson for entrpreneurs as well. Namely, you can't necessarily be friends with everyone. And foremost, you have to pick and choose your battles wisely.
McCarthy, a former business man from Bakersfield, California, who opened a sandwich shop using $5,000 in lottery winnings after high school, started out his poltical career as a state representative in 2002.
Since then, his rise to the top has been swift. He was elected to Congress in 2006. In 2010, following the Republican electoral sweep of the House, he was made the party Whip. In 2014, following the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Virginia) at the hands of a Tea Party candidate, McCarthy took over Cantor's role.
His strong networking capabilities are credited for his success. And those abilities have allowed him to ascend the leadership ranks of the House in record time. His efforts have reportedly included workouts with other representatives at the House gym, and invitations for movie or pizza nights, as well as staying up to date on the lives of family members.
But in today's hyper-partisan environment in Washington, McCarthy's networking abilities apparently have not proved useful enough. The Republican party's right wing continues to exert a powerful influence on the caucus, and it reportedly wants a leader who reflects their values. Boehner's perceived centrism was a flashpoint for the caucus's right wing, and reportedly a reason for his ouster. (The Washington Post suggests Republicans prefer to put forward representatives such as Daniel Webster, of Florida, and Jason Chaffetz of Utah.) And as Boehner's protege, McCarthy is seen simply as a continuation of the old guard.
And that no longer flies with Republicans inside the Beltway.
"Usually the people who work hardest at networking end up becoming the most successful," says John Hudak, a fellow in government studies at Brookings Institution, the public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. "These informal means of building relationships are something that has dissipated in Congressional politics."
In the end, leaders aren't necessarily the cool kids at the party. They need to make tough decisions--that may be unpopular but necessary. So if it's true that likability can backfire, McCarthy may well serve as the best example yet.