What Hillary Clinton Can Teach Us About Leadership and Communication

Article main image
Aug 31, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Full disclosure – there is absolutely no political agenda here.

This is not about the right vs the left or which candidate is best – it’s about communication. Or lack thereof in this case.

Every day on the news you hear the words “emails” and “private servers” when associated with Hillary Clinton. The reason why you’re still hearing about this is because Hillary hasn’t communicated a response that actually shuts the issue down!

She’s offered varied responses that some would say contradict one another. She even pokes fun via Snapchat.

But, she is leaving way too much up for interpretation. The facts remain murky. Many people think she is untrustworthy  — because she isn’t communicating clearly with a consistent message and she’s getting defensive because people are getting frustrated.

Well, no wonder!

Lots of unclear communication


Clinton said –

I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal e-mails instead of two.”

However, she also said –

But it’s also – I don’t know, I don’t throw anything away. I’m like two steps short of a hoarder. So I have an iPad, a mini iPad, an iPhone and a Blackberry.”

So, which one is it?

Her people aren’t helping her cause either. Her press secretary, Brian Fallon, was on CNN defending Hillary Clinton’s polling numbers.

Problem was he didn’t actually give any actual numbers – no data points. He just said that “she is leading” in this state and that state – but never said by how much. She could be leading by .01 percent or by 20 percent. It’s anyone’s guess, really. If you want to build trust with people you can’t leave too much to interpretation. You can’t make it a guessing game.

Hallmarks of a great communicator (and leader)

A good communicator (and a good leader) is clear, concise and consistent. They address all of the major points of contention. They’re authentic and genuine. They speak (OK, maybe spin a bit) the facts. And, they say things in a way that leaves little for interpretation.

All Hillary Clinton had to say (and keep saying) about her private email server was:

Yes, I did in fact send State Department emails using my personal email and server. This was not in violation of any laws. I have complied with reasonable requests for further information. The excessive coverage of this issue is purposefully distracting from the important issues facing the American people. Issues like education and jobs. Issues to which I have spent my career addressing and working hard to develop solutions for positive change on behalf of the American people. My Republican friends should be more concerned with creating their own solutions to improve the lives of the American people and less concerned with perpetuating distraction on an issue to which has already been addressed.”

See the difference?

Good communicators control the message.  They stand in front of the issue and address it openly, honestly, consistently and transparently. This is how you build trust.

So what can Hillary teach you about communication?

What have you done for me lately?

Being former First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State are impressive qualifications. But that was then.

Customers (and voters) have short attention spans. They’re not thinking about what good you did then; they’re looking at the good you can do now.

When developing a communication style and messaging, forget what you think you represented (or how you may have been seen) in the past, and focus more on the message you’re trying to convey in the present – who you want to be now and how you plan to make that a reality.

Don’t ignore past accomplishments, but be forward thinking and doing. Continually touting past accomplishments can make you come off as entitled. Just because you’re Hillary doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed anything.

People want to know you’re qualified, but, they want to know how you’re going to use those qualifications to help and support them in the present and the future.

Calm and cool, but with passion

This past weekend I was at the Jersey Shore and watched a TV show. The host of the show, a very direct man with a comedic edge, said in his monologue – “Let’s face it folks, if Hillary wants to be President – she needs to take the stick out of her … .”

The man had a point. Then Sen. Barack Obama didn’t win over voters because he looked stuffy and had the matching non-authentic (OK, fake!) smile to go with it. He won votes because he stayed calm and cool and still spoke from the heart with passion.

That’s a difficult balance. He focused on his message and was conscious of his delivery. People believed in hope and change back in 2008. Why? Because, whether you agreed with his message or not, he was consistent.

Everything Obama said tied right back to “hope and change.” He was passionate about what he was saying and he believed in his mission and vision (George W. Bush also did a great job of this). So make sure you lighten up, speak from the heart, and stay consistent and bring everything back to your key talking points.

Showing leadership and authority

In order to win the highest political office in this country – one must demonstrate leadership and authority.

No, not like Donald Trump (though we wrote about him recently, too!) in a rude and disrespectful way. But, like someone who sounds like they’re not going to put up with any crap and can get the job done. Direct. Honest. Forceful. Calm. (I know it’s in there somewhere, Hillary!)

To be a successful communicator you need to tailor your communication style to show authority in a way that will rally the troops and achieve success.

There is much more to successful communication than this, but these are some basics to help you build a following. Master these concepts and you’re farther along than others, like say, oh, some of those running for President of the United States.

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!