Monday, June 16, 2008

A“Business” Look At Why Hillary’s Quest for the Presidential Nomination Failed

I believe there are five reasons that likely contributed to Senator Hillary Clinton’s failure to become the Democratic nominee for President, some of which she could have controlled. Professional businesswomen can make a mental note to avoid similar scenarios in their own careers.

1) Senator Clinton cried on more than one occasion. Pollsters last winter had a field day pointing to the fact that Senator Clinton’s tears during a campaign appearance before the New Hampshire primary helped garner further support with women, and, ultimately, the edge over Senator Obama in that state. But, I don't think it helped how many others viewed her. Unfortunately, women are still held to a different standard when it comes to showing emotion in their careers – if a woman cries at work, she is seen as losing control or being weak. If a man gets emotional with outbursts of anger, however, it’s viewed as a sign of his strength of character and passion for the issue. Still, it’s a point best remembered.

2) Her outward physical appearance was more a topic of conversation at times than her actual message. Think about it … how many times were her hair, outfits and accessories mentioned, critiqued and/or analyzed? I can’t think of one time when Senators McCain or Obama’s suits or ties were cited. Unfortunately, there’s not much that Senator Clinton could have done here, short of calling this to the media’s attention and crying “foul” -- as once some of her campaign personnel did.

3) There were several aspects of her presentation skills and delivery that hurt Senator Clinton.
First, her visual signals – her body seemed very tense as she spoke, and her smile often seemed forced. She could have benefitted from some body warm-up exercises and stretching. Some aspects of her vocal delivery also needed help – her voice would seem shrill at times, which could have been better controlled by breathing from the diaphragm. Senator Clinton also needed to better allow for the audience reaction – frequently, she jumped her own laugh lines or applause, not allowing the audience reaction to finish before she moved on. This also may have prevented Hillary from making a better connection with both her live and TV audiences.

4) Whether intentional or not, she let a prominent man in her campaign – her husband, former President Bill Clinton – take over the spotlight, and do a lot of her “pitbull” attacks when it came to defending policy views and issues that arose during the campaign. This led to the appearance that she was not powerful or confident enough to fight her own battles, taking ownership for her own opinions, and being confident in them. I’ve seen this happen frequently in business. It’s bad enough that she had the husband/wife dynamic to overcome … but allowing former President Clinton to have such a prominent role ultimately hurt Hillary.

5) Related to #4, Hillary had the power -- as Senator of New York State – yet, at times she seemed to equivocate; she didn’t always “own” her power. All professional women in positions of authority are constantly aware of the need to strike a delicate balance – excelling at their chosen fields, yet not appearing aggressive in interactions with male peers or subordinates. The “bitch” label is something never far behind.

As I watched many of the debates, heard the commentary, and read the news stories, I kept thinking how remarkably similar it all sounded to what goes on in the world of business.

It seems that women still need to justify their actions, and watch their behaviors much more than their male peers. For every step forward that professional women achieve, and raise themselves to the ranks of CEO, there are still thousands of others still struggling for equality – let alone a seat in the boardroom.

Yes, there are more working women in corporate America than ever before, but are they still on equal footing as their male counterparts? We know they still aren’t from a salary perspective – many statistics bear that out.

What about from behavioral or attitudinal perspectives? Professional women still have a hard time speaking up at meetings, taking credit for their achievements, and otherwise using self-marketing strategies.

Until women take ownership for their success and never let others define their potential, this will continue to be the case – and the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling that Hillary spoke about won’t go any further toward shattering it.

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