I wasn’t surprised to see Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign—dubbed “struggling” in September—wrap up the month with what pundits are calling her “Big October” and “best week of the campaign.” After participating in the Democratic debate on Oct. 13, she emerged unscathed a week later despite being grilled for 11 hours by the House’s Select Committee on Benghazi. Now many who wondered whether she could boost her poll numbers and provide more direction to her campaign are heralding the “inevitability” of her position as frontrunner, and maybe as president.
Putting politics to the side, when watching Hillary “do her thing,” it’s natural to feel awe and admiration for the way she commands a room under the highest stakes without breaking a sweat. No matter what level of leadership you’ve reached or to which you aspire, there is plenty to learn from Hillary’s style. Here are a few of her best leadership traits to emulate:
- Turn adversity into resilience. Hillary’s exceptional ability to overcome challenges is not new—in fact, her record shows that she clearly thrives under difficult circumstances. I wrote about this particular leadership quality back in 2010, in my book Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton, and this same insight holds true today. Five years ago, I wrote in The Washington Post: “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.” That statement has stood the test of time, accurately reflecting her 2016 presidential bid’s exciting turnaround. Despite numerous obstacles and meeting continued resistance from many Americans, Hillary is that resilient leader who doesn’t cave in but fights back and emerges even stronger than before.
- Make learning a key strategy. What I love most about Hillary is her tenacious approach toward learning and her incredible perception. As is visible in every speech and negotiation she makes—and was certainly clear during October’s debate and hearing—she immerses herself in all of the information about the issues to help boost her position. Hillary projected confidence in the debate and Benghazi questioning because she was well prepared and had her facts down cold. She has continued to hone and improve this ability since her days as a high school student in Park Ridge, Illinois and then at Wellesley College, where she was a fierce standout debater.
- Listen to connect with others. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary was frequently criticized for failing to show enough emotion, and not revealing “the real Hillary.” I previously noted this tendency of Hillary’s as well, writing in The Washington Post in 2010: “I can’t say that Hillary’s true self, particularly her emotional side, showed up in the early 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.” What a difference eight years makes! Learning from her mistakes in the last campaign, Hillary now has been spending much more time on the road with the sole purpose of listening to American voters. This approach to show more “humor and heart” has allowed her to connect with others in a more personal way than ever before.
- Reveal authenticity. On a related note, it’s clear that Hillary does her best job of winning the hearts and minds of Americans in smaller forums, where she can connect in a more intimate way, often one-on-one. While there’s no doubt that she’s equally effective from a policy standpoint delivering keynotes to huge crowds behind the podium, smaller settings offer Hilary the chance to show up more as a whole, authentic person versus a policy. When leaders are authentic, they can show their true feelings and emotions in front of others, which can help draw support for their causes—and that’s part of what’s helping Hillary build momentum this time around, particularly with women voters.
In short, Hillary’s got something going for her in the 2016 campaign that she didn’t have in 2008: she has figured out how to balance logic with emotion. It isn’t just about being the smartest person for the job—it’s also about letting people know that you are confident enough to share your true self with them. Being human and authentic was the missing piece—we’ll see over the next year if completing the leadership puzzle is enough to win Hillary the presidency.
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Rebecca Shambaugh is author of the best-selling books “It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor,” “Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton,” and “Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.”