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5 Important Leadership Lessons from Hillary Clinton

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 14/04/2015 Sanjay Sanghoee

The former Senator and Secretary of State may be under fire, but is one of the strongest leaders in America today. 

In the midst of the Republicans' continuing efforts to trap Hillary Clinton on the Benghazi affair through the medium of her email protocols as Secretary of State, not to mention the media circus surrounding it, it's important to recognize that the former First Lady and Senator is also a very strong leader.

It could be argued that it's difficult for anyone to truly lead today's highly independent society. While some visionaries like Tim Cook of Apple do inspire a loyal following, they are the exception, and many leaders today seem to be crowd pleasers instead of trendsetters, especially in politics.

Hillary Clinton, however, bucks this trend with a defiant and dynamic style that transcends her politics:

1. Refuse to be bound by tradition

As a woman in the male-dominated world of politics, Clinton has encountered her fair share of challenges, but nowhere more so than when she was First Lady. During Bill Clinton's first term as President, he appointed Hillary to head the Task Force on National Healthcare Reform, which was tailor made for her sharp legal mind and policy acumen. Yet her involvement greatly irritated the political establishment, which preferred that the First Lady stay out of active governance, and her efforts were eventually shot down.

While Clinton adopted a lower profile during her husband's second term, she nevertheless continued to fight for health and welfare related issues, and never wilted in the face of narrow-minded opposition to her stepping outside her proscribed role. Her work led to the expansion of health insurance for children in lower income families, legislation to aid the removal of children from abusive environments, and the creation of a division to address violence against women in the Justice Department.

The lesson is to never allow expectations of your 'role' to hold you back from contributing your talents and realizing your full potential. Your contributions are more important than adherence to tradition. 

2. Have the guts to evolve

Surprisingly, Democratic champion Hillary Clinton actually began her political career as a Republican, working on Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964, heading the Young Republicans club at Wellesley college and working for the House Republican Conference. However, by the late 1960s, her thinking on various social and political issues had begun to evolve and shift towards the Democratic party, and she has steadily applied her knowledge, experience, and passion to liberal causes ever since.

In other words, Clinton had no fear of moving in a different direction as her understanding of the world matured. The best leaders are not necessarily those who adhere to an ideology but those who are willing to consider new information and alter their course accordingly; to do what feels right to them.

Clinton's many accomplishments as a Democrat in the arenas of child welfare, women's rights, universal healthcare, and global hunger are a testament to the success of this approach, and should be an inspiration for all leaders intent on doing their best rather than sticking to stubborn beliefs.

3. Don't let critics derail you

It's debatable whether Clinton should have used her personal email account for conducting State Department business, but that doesn't justify the hysteria over the issue or change the fact that much of the fuss is politically motivated just as she gets closer to announcing a bid for the Presidency of the United States.

But that is where leaders shine the brightest, resisting sensationalist forces and remaining focused on their goals. Despite the ordeal that she is being subjected to, Clinton seems determined not to let it derail her plans to run for the White House or to continue fighting for the causes she cares about.

As a leader, you need to be thick skinned and able to withstand even the most unfair criticism without letting it hamper your aims or ability to do your job. History ultimately judges you on your performance, not on how well you weathered a media cycle.

4. Reject gender roles

Today's political and business landscape is populated by some (if not enough) examples of strong women who have defeated the odds. These include Mary Barra of GM, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. But despite sharing some core qualities of leadership with these women, Hillary Clinton has defined her own style of leading that is defiantly gender neutral.

While the former Senator is a vocal proponent of gender equality, she also defies stereotypes, preferring to simply do the best job possible in any situation without seeing the world (or allowing the world to see her) through the prism of gender. As the U.S. moves towards greater equality, that is a crucial and potent leadership trait. The best leaders of tomorrow will not be men or women but the most qualified and capable professionals who transcend gender altogether.

5. Balance idealism with pragmatism

Unlike many of her colleagues in politics, Clinton has refused to be dogmatic, choosing instead to achieve results through pragmatism and compromise, which makes her an effective leader. It's also why she's able to perform the delicate balancing act of promoting populist ideals while maintaining credibility with the corporate sector, particularly Wall Street.

That is a rare quality in the hyper-partisan environment of Washington, and a good lesson for anyone in a leadership role in an organization.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, at hedge fund Ramius Capital, and has an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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