Sunday, June 08, 2008

Another Take on Hillary Clinton's Cautiousness in Throwing in the Towel

The pundits have been out in full force largely criticizing Hillary Clinton for fighting to the bitter end. If the situation were sports, would they be so quick to rest her case? As we know in golf, tennis, horse races, soccer, basketball, hockey and the like, the competitive situation can change drastically in a flash. It matters to persist even in the face of overwhelming odds. Throwing in the towel prematurely before risk has been assessed thoroughly can come back to haunt an athlete let alone a leader facing a complex, fluid environment.

Through the sports lens, Ms. Clinton’s often quoted “perseverance” can be viewed as not just hard work and slogging but a strategic choice. Underneath that choice are other factors at work to be understood rather than criticized. How Hillary Clinton thinks and learns, thus, formulates and makes decisions, is really at the heart of her style.

Critics have gone down all kinds of harsh pathways, attributing dark intentions to her viewpoints and actions at each step of the way. Here are some samples:

“Ms. Clinton along with her husband and the loyal circle of advisors around her succumbed to the form of hubris that has felled many a dynasty past: an overarching sense of entitlement to the trappings of power.”
---editorial (June 4, 2008), The Globe and Mail.

“She stayed in the race long after it was clear that she could not win, and in the process exacerbated divisions in her party. Supporters put that down to her pluck, and she has plenty of that. But there is also more than a little ego—a sense that she, and only she, has the knowledge and the smarts to do the job. Wrapped up in that Clintonesque shawl of righteousness, she failed to see that something really big was happening.”
---Marcus Gee (June 6, 2008), The Globe and Mail.

“Ms. Clinton has this peculiar ability to suck all of the political oxygen out of the room. Mr. Obama may need to look elsewhere (for a vice-president), just so he can breathe.”
---John Ibbitson (June 6, 2008), The Globe and Mail

“The Clinton-couple, Bill and Hillary, are somewhat like a pair of decaying teeth in the mouth of the Democratic Party.”
---George Jonas (June 7, 2008), The National Post

In that evidence-based leadership is a better foundation for criticism (than a person’s perceived character), the distaste for having a Clinton near the White House makes little sense. In Allen Greenspan’s view, a die hard Republican and former Chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve under six Presidents, Bill Clinton, despite his warts and wrinkles, was the most effective President he worked with in terms of managing the economy. Such praise is not given lightly. In the same vein, Hillary has earned a reputation as a hard-working and effective senator in her own right. It would be a shame to squander such expertise and experience due to untested assumptions that she is self-righteous and full of entitlement.

Let’s instead look at Hillary for what she has to offer in the way she thinks and learns and ultimately makes decisions rather than some character flaw. We are all flawed. And, we are all gifted in a way that can bring value to leadership challenges.

Hillary likely is more of a left-brain thinker and assimilator in the way she processes information. The logic of the information matters. If she is more like academics who place great importance on how the information fits into patterns and concepts, her style of decision making can appear at first glance to be stalling for time. The reality for assimilators is that they need thinking time to weigh the options.

Of course the downside of such a style is to go overboard on weighing the options, a lament of the critics. One must decide eventually! As timing is everything, let’s give Hillary a break. She wanted certain results to be in. She got them and then she decided.

A mistake we often make as leaders is to judge others erroneously. The better way is to celebrate the gifts we each bring to the issues at hand and to understand and value how others think, learn and make decisions.

Hillary Clinton has channeled her life energy with the clarity, control and power of a martial artist. Although critics insist they have been seeing the dark side of her “dojo” and “ki”, another take on Hillary is that we have been witnessing a lighter side whose outcome will advance the greater involvement of women in politics. That will be to the advantage of all, including Barack Obama.