Hillary Clinton's leadership journey
What stands out about Hillary Clinton is her enormous capacity for resilience that has allowed her to effectively navigate through highs and lows in her life. Yet how we perceive this resilience is a study in extreme contrasts. During the presidential primary, some saw her personality as unyielding and focused on her polarizing style, while many who know her well focused on her strong value system, work ethic, and warm heart, which she shared offline with dear friends and family. The core of a great leader is not always truly projected on TV, at speaking events or in public forums. Yet Hillary needed to bring out her true, authentic self to realize her aspirations as a leader.
I can't say that Hillary's true self, particularly her emotional side, showed up in the earlier days of her career. From the 1960s through the early 1990s, women often had to adopt the more decisive, direct, and confrontational style, known as the masculine style of leadership if they were to be taken seriously. Perhaps that explains why Hillary was known for her hard veneer, strong will, calculated action, and great perseverance rather than for her warm personality.
One of the most public expressions of Hillary's true self happened just before the New Hampshire primary in January, 2008. While she was answering questions from the audience, she had a personal moment when she almost shed a few tears--to everyone's surprise. No one, with the exception of Hillary's close friends and family, had really seen Hillary's deeper emotions before. What the public was used to seeing was HIllary behind a podium, speaking to large crowds or being drilled by the media. Although she had that driven, strong-willed, focused side, she also had a human side, a capacity to be vulnerable with others. In New Hampshire, this other expression of Hillary enabled her to truly connect with the audience, which was made up primarily of women.
Whether this emotional moment was due to extreme fatigue from the grueling campaign schedule as some have suggested, or whether Hillary simply revealed her heartfelt feelings about her commitment to making this country a better place, her personal reaction created a new perception of her among women throughout the country. Suddenly, they saw that inside this tough-as-nails political candidate was a real person with the same vulnerabilities that they had. Soon after the New Hampshire incident, polls indicated that Hillary had gained a majority of the women's vote, primarily because women could now identify with her more than they could with the other candidates.
When Hillary allowed herself to be vulnerable and express her true emotions, people could connect with her, which led to her increased popularity in the polls. This is a big lesson for leaders. This positive response enabled Hillary to become even more confident in and accepting of her true self, which she began to reveal more as time went on . She headed into the presidential campaign where she won nearly 18 million votes and earned a place in history for receiving more votes for a nominee in a major political campaign than any other woman in history.
When people began to see Hillary as the whole person that she was, they responded positively to her because people generally like and support a person who feels comfortable in her own skin and is confident enough to show her more personal or "human" side. While you and I may not want to shed tears in public, being able to connect with others by sharing our authentic thoughts and feelings, as well as our personal stories, improves and deepens our relationships, enabling us to gain the respect and trust of others. When, as a leader, you show your true feelings and emotions, you are also more likely to gain the discretionary effort of others, meaning people will be drawn to you and will go the extra mile for your cause.
When I coach leaders on ways to engage with their employees, particularly during challenging times, I always recommend that they express their personal feelings, vulnerabilities, and fears. Once people know this part of you, they are more willing and able to connect with you, see you as a real person, and have a greater level of respect and support for you. It creates a level of transparency that people appreciate and can connect with. It is necessary to balance intellect and logic with emotion and empathy. It's all about letting people know that you are confident enough to share your true self with them. That's life, that's being human, and that's being authentic.
Finally, being authentic often calls for speaking the truth. In politics or business today, we sometimes feel pressured to say things in order to please others or to look good in front of our colleagues. Authentic leaders are different: they consistently speak the truth. They would never betray themselves by using words that are not aligned with their values and actions. The sooner you understand the core of who you are as a leader and show yourself that way, the more successful you will be and the more you will enable others to connect with you, see the leader within you and support you in your goals and dreams.
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