What Hillary Clinton Shows Us About Leadership


Will she or won't she? The intense speculation continues about whether Hillary Clinton will run for president. Recently, I talked with WBAP radio in Dallas about Clinton's leadership style. A lot of what we discussed has relevance to female leaders everywhere, especially when it comes to relationships, the theme of our posts this month. Today, I wanted to expand on that radio interview to talk more about what women leaders can learn from Clinton — and from how the public perceives her.

Beyond Competence

The foundation for any leader, from the head of a small business to the president of the United States, is having the baseline competence to do the job. Clinton looks strong on this front. She's been secretary of state, a senator and first lady. She's shown she can get things done, and she has weathered tough situations. Because she's been in politics a long time, she knows how this world works.

Besides basic competence, leaders also have to get things done with and through others. They have to be great at relationships. So how does Clinton do here? Through her past positions, she's developed a network of relationships that she could draw on as president. But how she relates to others could also be a stumbling block for Clinton in some ways.

Making a Connection

Leaders must be able to inspire and create a vision others want to follow. That's an area where Clinton has trouble, especially when you compare her with her charismatic husband (as voters inevitably will).

Another key quality for a leader is being someone whom others want to work with. Here, too, Clinton may falter. Her image is that she can be aggressive and unapproachable. This could affect her success working with other leaders.

That image also affects her relationship with voters. A leader has to have a style that people relate to. They need to feel connection with the leader. One big question mark around a potential Clinton candidacy is whether she can create that sense of connection with voters. Admittedly, Clinton, and all female leaders, get judged on this likability factor differently than men do. For example, male leaders seem to have more leeway to show strong feelings that would get a female leader labeled "overly emotional." Of course, that double standard shouldn't exist, but it has been and will continue to be a factor in Clinton's success as a leader.

The Takeaways for You

  • Remember that leadership requires more than competence or "hard skills." It's about how you relate to others, too.

  • Learn how to connect your agenda to what's important to others. Get to know them and what they value. Finding common ground between what you want and what they want will help you inspire them and win their support.

  • Show that you are open to working with others. If, for example, you tend to shoot down a lot of ideas, work on your phrasing. There's a big difference between “There’s a lot that could go wrong with this idea” and “I really like Points A, B and C of this idea. And let’s also consider these other aspects…”

This week, see what you can learn from other female leaders and how you can apply it in your own career. Pay attention to what works and what doesn't for both the leaders you know and leaders such as Clinton who are in the public eye. You can find more ideas and tips like the ones in this post in my new Leadership EDGE booklet "Building Executive Presence."