The Clinton Leadership Dilemma
10-26-2007
Today’s New York Times runs a “presidential style” piece on Hillary Clinton. In an article that otherwise feeds into the conventional wisdom that Clinton is a calculating and methodical, process-oriented manager, reporter Mark Leibovich drops one very interesting nugget from Senator Clinton into the profile:
 
“My husband has extraordinary leadership ability,” Mrs. Clinton said in an interview. “But he was also not as interested in the day-to-day management. He was much more focused on our goals and objectives: how you do the politics, how you do the persuasion. I’m trying to meld leadership and management in a way that really suits me.”
 
The issue of how to strike an appropriate balance between inspirational leadership and effective management is one that has vexed presidential candidates for decades. Michael Dukakis’ inability to transcend a technocratic governing style is often cited as a chief reason for his failed presidential bid in 1988. Yet, a central criticism of the Bush administration’s foreign policy (from both Republican and Democratic candidates) is an ongoing lack of managerial competence.
 
This raises a difficult challenge for candidates. While voters often profess a desire for more efficient stewardship of our government, candidates know that these same citizens can be genuinely moved in the voting booth by the visceral power of leadership. So, when I hear presidential candidates talk about their managerial credentials (as virtually all of them have), I think of the late political scientist Richard Neustadt, and his famous dictum that presidential power is the power to persuade. As a student of politics, Bill Clinton clearly learned this lesson.


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