It seems as if Hillary Clinton has been around forever, engendering a weariness among voters that could damage her presidential aspirations. But Washington leadership consultant Rebecca Shambaugh sees that as a sign of resilience, a leadership quality that Americans would do well to consider in their next president and that we all could learn from. "She has an extraordinary capacity for resilience," Ms. Shambaugh said in an interview.
In 2010, Ms. Shambaugh was approached by her publisher to write a book about Mrs. Clinton, after focus groups showed an interest in learning more about the then-Secretary of State. Although she had met Mrs. Clinton at events promoting women and leadership, she was not an acolyte and indeed chose not to interview the subject of her book so as to judge her leadership style from a distance. After doing her research, she became convinced that many of Mrs. Clinton's skills were worth emulating, resulting in the 2013 book Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton.
Now, with Mrs. Clinton returning to centre stage, I asked Ms. Shambaugh what we should be watching for. Again, resilience topped the list, with the controversies over the Benghazi attack and her use of her personal e-mail account presenting new challenges. "She needs to show how she has engaged in difficult matters, how she handled them, and how she has learned. How she handles these issues will help to define her," Ms. Shambaugh said in an interview.
In the book, she laid out three overarching themes when discussing Mrs. Clinton:
She is an example of several unique attributes that are required of leaders at any level in any organization in the world today, such as being a continuous learner, being resilient, and being "adaptively" authentic – the ability to adapt your true self to different situations and environments.
She exemplifies key leadership skills that are essential in today's turbulent business environment, notably being focused, being "connected" to people, and being a great communicator.
She provides a great example of the heart of a leader, which involves leading with purpose and being of service to others.
But in the interview, Ms. Shambaugh says it's critical to understand all those other dimensions of her leadership support resilience. In an ever-changing world, we need the ability to keep moving ahead, no matter what obstacles we meet, overcoming and thriving on adversity. Leaders must be looking ahead, seeing the possibilities, and then connecting with the hearts and minds of followers to engage them in a new vision.
This traces back, she feels, to self-awareness. "Great leaders are very self-aware of their beliefs and intentions, where their strengths lie, and how they complement themselves with others in the organization," she said.
To build your own resilience, start with understanding your core values. You need to be able to look inward and learn when you hit challenges. "Resilience is a mindset anyone can learn," she said.
In the book, she calls Mrs. Clinton "adaptively authentic," an intriguing phrase given that the "authenticity" of politicians sometimes seems contrived. But she makes the point that authenticity is dependent on the situation and the environment. You connect with others in a way that is appropriate to them, tapping an essential part of yourself.
Again, you need to know yourself to express yourself – but also, she advises, you need to accept yourself. That means recognizing and admitting to mistakes, which Mrs. Clinton did after her failed attempt to transform American health care in the early days of her husband's presidency. She had been insular, meeting with experts, but changed her style, most noticeably when she began her campaign for the U.S. Senate with listening tours to hear the concerns of people she was hoping to represent. Her presidential campaign has been in a similar mode.
No matter how big the audience, Bill Clinton could connect with others from a podium, a superb, emotional communicator. But Hillary Clinton shows us another model for communication: Meeting with people in groups, and sharing. "I don't think her true passion shines out in speaking to large audiences. She shines with small groups of people," Ms. Shambaugh observed.
Passion and service have been hallmarks of Mrs. Clinton's leadership, indeed, of her life – another important facet of leadership for us to consider in our own careers. "She is a woman who is extraordinarily passionate about making this a better world. I think even growing up as a child and in university she felt she would have an impact. And in everything thrown at her, she has had an impact," Ms. Shambaugh said.
Great leaders need smarts – and Mrs. Clinton has street smarts, Ms. Shambaugh said. But they also need to balance that with a heart. An important moment for Mrs. Clinton was when she shed tears after surprising everyone by winning the 2008 New Hampshire primary. People, especially women, felt more comfortable seeing her less bottled up and more vulnerable. "She has the experience. People are looking for the heart," Ms. Shambaugh said.
That brings her back to resiliency. Instead of toughing out the current controversies, Ms. Shambaugh feels it would be wise to show leadership strength by admitting things might have been handled better, promising to do so in future – and moving on. Resilience – a strength of Hillary Clinton and a lesson for your own leadership.
Special to The Globe and Mail