How Hillary Became the Democrat’s Next Great Hope

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton salutes ...

How Hillary Clinton became the Democrat’s next big hope. (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

One of this month’s biggest news stories was not the current election, but whether or not Hillary Clinton would run in 2016. The Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut wrote a lengthy op-ed piece highlighting the insider chatter on Clinton’s plans and what her candidacy would mean for igniting the Democratic party. Clinton’s approval rating, at 65 percent, is the highest level in her career. Gallup Organization says she’s the most admired woman in America.

I can’t help but ponder what a difference four short years has made. How does a person go from being hailed as unelectable, whose mere face could rally the opposition and open their checkbooks, to the party’s great shot?

Certainly, being out of the campaign hot seat has helped. With cool distance from the presidential race, Clinton’s actions are seen in a different light. (Though this has had the opposite effect with Sarah Palin, the other high-profile woman in the 2008, whom Bloomberg puts at a 28% approval rating.)

But through my lens as a leadership coach who specializes in presence, I see a more richly textured story. Clinton has exhibited many behaviors that increase trust, connection, and credibility — three qualities that are essential to building followership. Whether she’s planning to run again, only she knows. However, her actions in the last four years speak volumes about how to rehabilitate a leader’s image. (Wall Street, take note.)  Here’s what stands out:

Putting the greater good above personal interests. Clinton shocked many when she joined Obama’s cabinet, and there were concerns that her ego would upstage the President. Instead, she’s been a loyal steward, representing both the President and the country through some of the toughest diplomatic issues in modern history. She’s admired and respected throughout the world.

Authenticity. Those who know Clinton often speak of her deep, wonkish intellect and love of policy. At State, she’s in a position to play to her strengths. We need the Secretary to know the intricate nuances of foreign policy, and be able to layer those against domestic issues. This is a job where being the smartest person in the room is a very good thing. Clinton seems at ease in this role, and as Kornblut writes, has nothing to prove.

Sense of humor. While we want our leaders to be capable, we also want them to be human. Clinton was dinged in 2008 for not being relatable. Her poll numbers went up only after she broke down and cried from exhaustion during a campaign stop. At State, we’ve seen a different aspect of her personality, in which she’s been able to reveal a lighter side. Whether it’s over being asked about the famous photo without makeup, her longer hairstyle, or the humorous “Texts from Hillary” site, she’s been able to take it in the appropriate stride.

Equanimity. I can’t think of any job that’s more stressful than Secretary of State, and especially during the last four years. Through it all, whether dealing with Libya, Afghanistan or now Syria, Clinton has been the calm amidst the storm. She’s appropriately forceful about U.S. involvement but always with supreme diplomacy. We’ve seen her exhibit this behavior through many trying times, and I believe that part of her approval rating is the safety she makes the American people feel that what we see is what we’ll continue to get. In leaders, we don’t like surprises.

What do you think of Hillary Clinton’s prospects in 2016? Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersFind her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.

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What Does and Doesn’t Inspire Others (No sound bites required)

Mitt Romney takes his shot at inspiring

It’s that time of year again: the air is crisp, leaves are falling, and political candidates are arguing. Even as we just left the polls this Tuesday, we’re really preparing for the Big One, as this is the oh-so-lucky year before the presidential race. We get twelve more months of this, so gear up!

Of course, unless you’re a political consultant, you’re probably not too excited about listening to the candidates (and their ads) for months on end. Most political leaders — like their corporate counterparts — simply aren’t inspiring. We’re not even sure they believe what they’re saying.

And boy do we need some inspiration about now. The Harvard Business Review recently featured a downright depressing blog post on America’s pull toward mediocrity. The worst part was that we’ve heard this message before, and it’s a widely accepted viewpoint. We don’t even have the energy for outrage. (Especially since it was a major theme in the last presidential campaign with little progress.)

Inspirational leaders seem to be able to ignite a magical light in others, both a call to action and a breath of optimism. We need it in government, our community, and in business. One could easily argue that being able to inspire others is the leader’s job. A leader can never manage, direct or cajole enough to achieve great success, but must inspire self-motivation.

Especially in times of uncertainty, authenticity is paramount and palpable. You can’t phone in inspiration. To inspire a feeling in others you must have it in you first. It is impossible to get others excited if you are burnt-out or unsure. Nor can you get others to take something seriously if you don’t think it’s a big deal yourself. But if you believe down to your soul, and demonstrate the actions to back it up, doors will fly open.

If you’re looking to hone your inspirational skills, try these practices of great leaders:

  • Get intentional about your actions, and the desired reaction.

Inspiring leaders aren’t accidental, they work at it. In fact, every great leader I’ve ever worked with has believed that inspiring others is a craft that needs to be constantly honed. Inspiring leaders are intentional about what they want to communicate AND what emotion they want to impart. They have an acute ability to bottom line a situation and communicate straight to that objective.

  • Be self-aware and authentic.

Motivational leaders have a keen sense of how they are perceived by others. They pay attention to their own body language to make sure their intent is clear. Many actively seek out advice in order to constantly improve on their skills. Finally, they don’t try to be someone they aren’t. They know who they are, and what personal characteristics  draw others to them. They try to be more of themselves, rather than more of someone else.

  • Relate on an individual level.

We are drawn to people as individuals, not as concepts such as business owner or boss. Great leaders take the time to really know others – whether customers, employees, partners or friends – in order to foster strong individual relationships. They are the ones who remember your kids’ names and ask about your weekend softball league. Even when talking to large groups, they make a connection based on shared interests and set a tone of commonality.

  • Be open to viewpoints and listen attentively.

Listening is a gift that you give to others, and takes very little to do. Yet most leaders do too much talking and not nearly enough listening. Inspiring leaders make people feel heard – whether or not they agree with them. They give people the courtesy of their full attention. They don’t make you compete with their Blackberries or scan the networking event while you are talking.

  • Share your failures and struggles as leveraged experiences.

Business leaders often feel the pressure to be perfect – to be stoic, have the right answers, and hide weakness. However, we’re drawn to each others’ weaknesses – it’s what makes us human. Back to the election, we look at candidate’s backgrounds to find what they are made of – where they have struggled and overcome. The same is true of business leaders. Inspiring leaders don’t hide their failures; they admit them and use them as learning experiences. They share struggles openly when it makes sense to leverage them for moving the company forward. They aim not to be on a pedestal, but on common ground.

  • Learn to be a story teller.

People are overloaded with data and rarely retain it. What we do remember are stories. Humans are story tellers by nature, and use them to create understanding for ourselves. Stories transport us and form a connection that is lasting. Great leaders share their stories openly to make their points come alive and to motivate others.

Heads Up: Cautionary Tales Coming Your Way

In the next year, there will be ample opportunities to learn from the mistakes of others about what doesn’t inspire (and hopefully a few that can demonstrate what does.). View it all through your leadership lens. When someone inspires or motivates you, think about what caused it. How did they affect you? What made you remember them? How can you apply that learning to a pressing business issue you have?

Never forgot that your team wants — even hopes — to be inspired. By you.

Herein lies a leader’s great challenge and greatest possibility.

This post also appears on Forbes.com.

I don’t trust you. Now what?

Trust you? I don't think so. (Image by Ambro)

We are living in a time of profound distrust.

We don’t trust the financial markets or corporate America. We don’t trust our national leaders or institutions. (This week’s NBC/WSJ poll showed disapproval of Congress at 82 percent, the lowest in the history of the poll. Obama’s disapproval ratings are his all-time low ‒ on par with Bush’s after Hurricane Katrina.)

Since 2007’s recessionary hack job, employees remain deeply suspicious of management. This is particularly concerning when an employee’s relationship to his or her manager is the number one predictor of job satisfaction and retention.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, polls show that the majority of Americans don’t trust that we’re any safer. We don’t even trust the future to be brighter.

This lack of trust is killing us: one retrenched company, one stalled decision, one missed opportunity at a time.

And yet at the core of our humanity, we can’t stop yearning for trust.

In executive coaching sessions, trust is a common topic. Clients struggle with building ‒ and bridging ‒ trust with coworkers, supervisors, employees, new hires, and customers. We want to trust others at our truest and deepest levels. When it’s absent, it creates serious stress and disaffection. We crave trustful relationships with everyone around us, and especially those with whom we’re closely interconnected. After all, we can’t easily walk away from our jobs, family or country.

So what’s a culture founded on optimistic possibility to do? Should we simply give up on trust as a hallmark of some bygone Pollyanna era?

Or do we try to put some trust back into the world, one person, one relationship at a time.

If you clicked on this article, you may be struggling with a relationship that could use more trust. Whether it’s someone at work, or in your personal life, I bet you’d much rather have the trust back. You may feel you’re out of options. Perhaps you’ve tried a few approaches that didn’t work. Or you may be too reluctant to risk your own comfort or safety by putting yourself out there.

My go-to source for extending trust and fixing a broken trust dynamic is The Trusted Advisor by Maister, Green and Galford. I’ve written about it before — it’s both a diagnostic for what’s wrong, and a path for moving forward. It’s fitting that Charles H. Green with co-author Andrea Howe is about to publish the Trusted Advisor Fieldbook — we need an injection of trust building right about now. (For some immediate inspiration, check out their ebook.)

The authors’ thesis is based on The Trust Equation, which deduces how we form feelings of trust:

(Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy)/Self-Orientation = Trust

In their model, credibility is your experience and reliability is your consistency. These two variables are what we commonly consider when we try to increase our own trustworthiness — we try to be good, smart and deliver more. But it’s the other two variables that get interesting because they are less often considered yet have great power. Intimacy is being able to speak and receive the truth. Self-orientation describes how focused you are on your own interests versus those of the other person.

When trust is broken, intimacy and self-orientation hold the promise for repair. In my experience, there are two key moves on any table that can still be taken. If you want to build trust, try these.

1) Do something for the other person that is against your own selfish interest. When it’s clear that we’re prepared to subjugate our own ego for the sake of the relationship, it can shake up the entire dynamic. Consider these trust-building moves, as examples:

  • Give away something meaningful to you without the expectation of return
  • Give a difficult colleague credit for a project
  • Forego your bonus so an employee can have a raise
  • Proactively reveal a product or service weakness to a customer
  • Offer to tackle a project your company needs, but is outside your job

2) Speak the truth and ask for honesty. Intimacy is a virtuous or destructive cycle. If we withhold or obscure the truth, we get self-protective falsehoods in return. And back and forth. When one person dares to speak honestly (and back to #1 which may not be in his or her self-interest) then it opens the door for the other person to do the same. Eventually truth builds trust. And trust builds respect.

Now let’s have a Pollyanna moment. Imagine if Congress did #1, and supported good ideas across the aisle. We’d have true compromise. If there were a commitment to speaking the truth, in all its messiness, we could tackle issues in their entirety rather than pushing politically expedient Band-Aid solutions.

It’s not wishful thinking when it comes to personal trust issues. You can adopt these principles in any interpersonal dynamic, at any time.

I realize not everyone in the world wants or expects trust in their relationships. So you may find these ideas falling flat. But I know for sure that most of us do want to trust our co-workers, friends, and institutions.

I’ll choose trust over cynicism any day. You?

(Also posted on Forbes.com)

Should a leader be the MC or Main Event?

In Sunday’s Washington Post, David Rothkopf wrote an opinion piece that struck my eye. He talked about how Obama has positioned himself on global affairs as a sort of master of ceremonies, bringing countries together and orchestrating a coordinated effort rather than leading the way. Rothkopf intimates that Obama may lose followership from such an approach even as he posits that this may be the new era of American presidencies with our diminishing role as undisputed superpower.  

 I read the article as a typical leadership conundrum playing out on a world stage — how much to collaborate and how much to exert power. What is the right touch? How do you gain insight to course correct?  Most managers spend their careers trying to figure it out.

In corporations, there’s been a significant shift away from heavy handedness and into consensus building. The millennial generation seems to be helping to influence management in this direction. I can’t help but wonder is what we’re seeing in the presidency emblematic of this shift or only a leadership style of our current commander in chief?

Time will tell. And with multiple crises facing the country, we’re sure to have ample opportunity to observe.

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