Hillary Clinton’s hairstyle. Michelle Obama’s sleeveless dresses. Justice Sotomayor’s bold and colorful suits. So often fabulous female leaders are judged based on of their personal style … yet we rarely seem to put their leadership styles under the microscope. I think it is time to change that because there is so much we can learn from these strong, powerful women if we just take a m0ment to look beyond the power suit.
One very poignant example of this phenomenon comes from an interview that Clinton did a little over a year ago:
MODERATOR 1: People always touch some personality of Hillary Clinton. We have some – not just silly questions, but (inaudible) –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I’ve never been asked a silly question in my entire life. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR 1: Okay. Which designers do you prefer?
SECRETARY CLINTON: What designers of clothes?
MODERATOR 1: Yes.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Would you ever ask a man that question? (Laughter.) (Applause.)
MODERATOR 1: Probably not. Probably not. (Applause.)
What makes this particular exchange incredibly ironic is that just a few moments before Clinton had made this statement:
And it requires, for a woman [to succeed as a lawyer], usually in today’s world still, an extra amount of effort because I think it’s – the fact that women are still sometimes judged more critically. If you are in the courtroom or you are presenting a case, it still is a fact – and this is not just in Kyrgyzstan, this is everywhere – that when a man walks into a courtroom it’s rare for someone to say, “Oh, look what he is wearing.” (Laughter.) But if you walk into a courtroom, or any young woman walks into a courtroom, people are going to notice. And that will be an additional requirement that you have to meet.
Clearly we can see that the interviewer was off-base, and Clinton steered him back on topic in an incredibly composed way, but what can we learn from this? Plenty.
Effectively Making a Point: Clinton Style!
[Or at least, my interpretation of her style!]
1) Do your best to stay calm. This particular tip is hard for me personally, because I am naturally a very emotionally expressive person. Still, it is tough to be at your most persuasive when it is obvious that the person you are conversing with has gotten under your skin or shaken you in some way. So even if your eyes are tearing up a bit, remember to breathe and take your time to make your point. Avoid name-calling or anything that will put those around you on the defensive.
2) Focus on the moment. If you focus on pointing out what was wrong with a particular statement/action instead of making it about the personality of whoever you are speaking with then it is much easier to have a productive conversation that may actually change some minds. This goes back to the first point … it’s all about keeping people off the defensive.
3) A good sense of humor goes a long way. Sexism is frustrating. It’s definitely not easy to laugh when you’re faced with sexism. Yet in the example above, that is more or less what Clinton did. She made her point in a firm, witty manner and she got her interviewer to admit the hypocrisy in his statement by staying calm, collected, and just a bit sassy.
4) Know what you’re talking about. When Clinton speaks it is obvious that she knows what she is speaking about. These tips are all more or less pointless unless you have the information to back up your argument so make sure to research the things that you are passionate about – keep up with the news, the latest research, whatever so that when the time comes you can make a solid and knowledgeable case. (Pro-tip: Whatever you do don’t lie. Be honest if you don’t know a particular piece of information because if you make it up and someone you were speaking with later finds out you were wrong your credibility will be incredibly damaged!)
Check out the video below for an example of Clinton in action, defending Reproductive Rights in 2009:
What are your favorite aspects of Hillary Clinton’s leadership style? Do you have a favorite female leader you’d like to see featured next? I’d love to know!