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Hillary Clinton and Leadership
No other First Lady in recent history has been as admired and vilified as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Breaking from the mold of her immediate predecessors, Clinton has more in common with her earlier counterparts, like Eleanor Roosevelt, Dolly Madison, Abigail Adams or Mamie Doud Eisenhower.
However, many of her predecessors wielded a tremendous amount of power simply through their access to the president. Nancy Reagan, for example, would often discuss the effects of their friendship with the Gorbachevs in light of the unease over the Cold War.
Unlike them, Clinton was clearly not interested in this delicate, secondary form of leadership. Rather, she became an active participant in several of her husband's most important campaigns -- from health care to welfare reform. When her term as First Lady ended, she extended her leadership role further in her new position as New York's junior senator.
Through a reading of her memoir Living History, this paper assesses Clinton's rise to leadership and her various strengths and weaknesses as a leader. The first part of the paper studies the first leadership roles of the young Hillary. The next part then evaluates Clinton's actions in light of the various theories discussed in Peter G. Northouse's Leadership and Lee G. Bolman's Reframing Organizations. The next parts then examine how she has gone on assuming new roles, from her political conversion to a Democrat and her early career as a lawyer in Arkansas. Northouse's writings on leadership traits, the concept of transformational leadership, Dayle Smith's work on the role of gender and Ronald Heifetz's study of ethics form a useful framework for analyzing Clinton's leadership process.
Much of the paper is necessarily devoted to her leadership roles as the First Lady, amid much scandal, public adulation and public censure. In the last section, the paper summarizes how the theories on leadership help shed light on the processes and decisions made by Clinton through various points in her career.
The Early Years
Bolman and Deal (1997) advocate a "framing" approach towards understanding management organizations. The see these frames as "windows on the world and lenses which the world into focus" (12). These frames include organizational structure, human resources, political frameworks and cultural symbols and associations. By examining the interaction between various frames, a researcher could then gain a greater understanding of the organization as a whole.
In much the same way, Clinton's narrative in Living History could also be read through a similar "framing" device, one that explores various facets of her personal and professional experiences, education and personality to shed more light on her leadership style and decisions.
Living History thus provides several frames to locate Clinton's development. For example, she gives several surprising revelations regarding her upbringing, which tie into her early political views. The young Hillary is a far cry from the urban, sophisticated and liberal image she currently projects.
Clinton was raised in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, a heavy Republican enclave. In 1960, largely influenced by her father and a teacher, the young Hillary even joined Republican-led efforts to prove that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley stole the election from Richard Nixon through "creative vote counting." She even writes about walking around dangerous neighborhoods in the South Side, being "fearless and stupid." One of her triumphs was locating a vacant lot that was listed as a residence for 12 voters on the polling sheet.
In fact, Clinton's earliest roles leadership roles highlight her strong Republican leanings. While her courageous graduation speech at Wellesley has become famous, it is much less known that she was also president of the Young Republicans club. She admired Barry Goldwater's stand for individual rights and even worked on Nelson Rockefeller's presidential campaign.
Northouse (1997) defines leadership as a "process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal" (3). At this early stage, Clinton is admittedly more of a follower, although she already embodies key components of Northouse's definition. First, she shows an ability to act within a group setting. Furthermore, her willingness to brave Chicago's rough South Side reveals a focus on achieving a goal.
In discussing the important characteristics of a leader, Northouse (1997) also identifies several important traits of a leader. These include intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability. Again, her early work on the Republican Party's behalf to expose Mayor Daly's "creative vote counting" already show a strong determination and self-confidence. Furthermore, her college career at Wellesley and work as chair of the Young Republicans are indicative of a young woman with a keen intelligence and strong social skills.
Clinton, however, eventually left the Republican Party, starting down the road towards the liberal ideology that, for the most part, defines Clinton today. This has given rise to charges that she is an opportunist, one who sways with the political winds and who therefore lacks a key leadership trait -- integrity. This point will be constantly brought up against her constantly throughout her career.
In explaining her conversion to the Democratic Party, Clinton remarked, "I didn't leave the Republican Party as much as it left me."
While her detractors highlight the shifting positions, Clinton uses Living History to highlight the continuity of her positions. The Republican Party's rightward drift, particularly evident during the Vietnam War, showed that the party was increasingly at odds with her strong commitment to individual rights. This has led her to break with her old leanings, a decision she did not make lightly.
Rather than a decision of convenience, the political shift was precipitated by her own disagreement with her old party's stand, a sign that she is already an astute political analyst who was willing to stand up for her decisions and principles. It is an early indication of her move from a mere party follower to a person who could lead.
It is also important to note that she retains several other areas where she has remained consistent. For example, Clinton narrates how she has remained a devout Christian, who turned to prayer groups and Biblical Scripture during the many difficult times of the Clinton presidency.
For her supporters, then, the willingness to stick to her principles is actually in line with Northouse's five key traits of leadership.
Bolman and Deal (1997) wrote that all organizations have a symbolic, one that embodies the group's myths, stories, rituals and ceremonies. These symbols are culturally defined, and thus play an important role in leadership and organizational dynamics. Astute leaders who are in tune with their organization's symbolic frame can therefore inspire and strengthen confidence from their followers, both in the leadership and the organization itself.
Many of Clinton's leadership problems stem from the fact that she is often at odds with these culturally defined symbols.
In her early career as the First Lady of Arkansas, for example, Clinton narrates feeling painfully like a fish out of water. Unlike many women her age in the state at the time, and was therefore regarded with suspicion. This feeling of being out of place is stressful for anyone, but is even more difficult for a governor's wife who was struggling to build her own law career.
She was, after all, educated at Wellesley, a top women's college that emphasizes academics and achievement. She then went on to Yale Law School and had just been admitted to the Arkansas State Bar Association. As a sign of the time, she also used the name Rodham instead of Clinton.
Though not intended to alienate her constituents, these choices were in serious conflict with what Arkansas residents expected from their state's First Lady. She recounts being perceived as an outsider, because of who she was, what she did, how she spoke and even how she called herself.
Because of the conflict she embodied, Clinton found it difficult to gain power during her early years of leadership. At this stage, she already had an assigned title -- First Lady of Arkansas. However, she clearly did not behave in the expected way. Furthermore, she did not "look" like a governor's wife. In Living History, Clinton narrates a preference for wearing jeans and work shirts, and her aversion to wearing make-up.
Thus, despite her position, she clearly lacked what Northouse (1997) identifies as "the potential to influence" (11). Most of her constituents appeared unwilling to grant her this form of personal power.
It does not help that Clinton herself is prone to provoking such misunderstandings. During her first campaign for her husband, for example, Clinton appeared on the television program 60 Minutes to address the issue of her husband's affair with Gennifer Flowers. During the interview, she stated that she was not "standing by her man like Tammy Wynette."
The careless choice of words provoked a torrent of angry responses from people who were still pining for previous First Ladies like Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush. Though she apologized profusely for the comment, much of the damage was done. Her intelligence was already an alienating factor for many…[continue]
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