Each semester I ask students to analyze a leader that interests them, using a specific framework I present as part of a management course. The criteria for leader selection is simple: Choose someone with whom you identify somehow, positively or negatively. Think of them as your partner for the weeks ahead. Research with care, and test your assumptions about them, applying the framework. Share your findings. What relevance does this person have for these times? What does this example of leadership help you understand about the world and yourself?
Of 80+ students this semester, I counted eleven essays that featured women leaders, which is a considerable increase over past semesters. Most students choose influential men.
One student, Jessica, worked through her analysis as she personally struggled through a difficult time while trying to maintain a full course load. Insisting on being fully accountable for this assignment, she returned the following essay on Hillary Clinton several weeks past the official deadline.
Weary of this year’s political upheaval and the crossfire of accusations aimed at everyone, I confess I didn’t anticipate being as moved as I was by what my student wrote. Nor did I expect to find myself personally relating so deeply to Hillary, to Jessica…to my student's grandmother, and to my own beloved and influential grandmother, who, were she alive, would have celebrated her 102nd birthday today.
I have Jessica’s permission to share her material here.
She told me in the email accompanying her paper,
“… I partially wrote this for my Grandma Shirley. At the time I hoped she would read it, but she couldn't read by the time I finished it and now she has passed. I’m not expecting full points, I’d understand you giving me no points, but I’m hoping you’ll still read it. I believe it will be cathartic to share since I didn’t get to share it with her.”
I thought Jessica's essay deserved to be shared with many. It is cathartic, putting many conflicting feelings into context.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
When I first considered a leader I wanted to research, I knew I wanted to focus on a woman. Women are natural leaders because they are supporters. It is true that behind every strong male leader there is a strong female lifting them up. Strong women lift each other up and keep us going, wives support their husbands, mothers lead their children through life and will inspire their child to achieve the most out of life – at least a good one. I honestly think that is why we are not always recognized as much for leading, because it comes so fluidly. Those that benefit don’t always see how much of an influence we have. We are the leaders behind the leaders. As mothers we are the first leaders that each new generation will have. Perhaps that is why we are so easily taken for granted – because we are (or always have been) there. Like most things in life once something is so solidified in one’s mind, it becomes an afterthought. I wanted to highlight this while still choosing a leader that can be widely seen as a leader. I wanted someone that can be looked at from both ends, as a leader AND a leader behind the leader. This is why I chose Hillary Rodham Clinton.
I chose Hillary for several different reasons. First, I thought it would be a good excuse for me to get to pour into her work as well as delve into the controversies people condemn her for. I also wanted to feature a provocative leader. Someone who has flaws and for some would not consider to be a fit leader. I didn’t want to put rose glasses on and write a flowery easy essay – what would that teach me? Hillary Clinton is all of this and more!
She came from a middle class family, one of conservative beliefs. After graduating from Yale law as one of only 27 women, she went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund. This has been a lifelong passion of hers – fighting for children’s needs. She co-founded the advocacy group Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (About Hillary, 2017). As we all know, she married Bill Clinton in 1975 and had her daughter Chelsea in 1980. In 1992 Hillary became America’s first lady where she drove legislation for the rights of children to healthcare and early education. After the Clinton administration ended she promptly ran for a Senate position in New York and won. In 2008 she ran for the Democratic presidential nominee which she lost to Barack Obama, but did serve as Secretary of State in his administration. In 2014 she became a grandmother to Chelsea’s daughter Charlotte (About Hillary, 2017). She, of course, tried again for her turn in the Oval Office in 2016 becoming the first woman to run as a presidential nominee under a major political party, but still crushingly lost. She came so painstakingly close, winning the popular vote but not the electoral vote (CNN Library, 2017). Though the blow was hard, she found she had still become a leader to women and was their symbol for a political movement called Pantsuit Nation, named after her signature attire.
As I wrote several iterations of this analysis it became clear to me through Hillary’s quotes that I needed to combine key subjects. Vision and Ethics went hand in hand, every time I read about her vision it sprung from what she considers to be ethical. Her moral principles guide her to strive for her lofty goals. The same is said for Reality and Courage. It takes courage to face the hard realities of life. Hillary has faced some harsh reality in her time, yet she still pulls up her bootstraps to work through them.
Vision and Ethics
“We should remember that just as a positive outlook on life can promote good health, so can everyday acts of kindness”. It Takes A Village (The children’s book she authored), January 1996
Mrs. Clinton has always had a strong vision for the future, though it has not always been the same vision. There have always been 2 core principles that guide her: uplifting women, advocating for children. Hillary is a champion for Women’s Rights. In 1995 she attended the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women as First Lady. There she gave a groundbreaking speech calling “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” (Chozick, 2015). She has always seen herself as a woman to break down barriers for other women. That was apparent in Beijing in 1995 when she gave that speech. More recently she has become a beacon of hope for women running for office. In her concession speech she made it clear that this should not be looked at as a setback for women, but a rallying cry;
“ . . to all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion. Now, I -- I know -- I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now. And -- and to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams” - Concession Speech Nov 9, 2016.
Since that night Hillary tweeted a link to EMILY’s List, a political organization dedicated to electing Democratic women into office, to which 16,000 women reach out to the site about running for office in under two months (Sottile, 2017). 55 women endorsed by EMILY’s List have already run, 32 of whom have won. Now, I know from your class that a good leader creates other leaders; whether you like or hate her - you can’t argue with those numbers!
As a mother she wanted to give her daughter Chelsea a better, more equitable future for women. When she had Chelsea, she realized that women didn’t have a clear path back into the workforce after having a child. This was a major issue she wanted to tackle once it was brought to light first hand (Clinton, 2016). She sees how women are unequally treated in the workforce, making 20% less than men, and has always strived to break glass ceilings and moved forward a feminist agenda;
“We are here to advance the cause of women and to advance the cause of democracy and to make it absolutely clear that the two are inseparable. There cannot be true democracy unless women's voices are heard. There cannot be true democracy unless women are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives. There cannot be true democracy unless all citizens are able to participate fully in the lives of their country.” Keynote Address at the Vital Voices Conference in Vienna, Austria (11 July 1997)
“[W]hether I am meant to or not, I challenge assumptions about women. I do make some people uncomfortable, which I'm well aware of, but that's just part of coming to grips with what I believe is still one of the most important pieces of unfinished business in human history -- empowering women to be able to stand up for themselves." Vogue interview (November 21, 2009)
Probably at the bedrock of her core principles is children’s rights. I believe she got this from her mother, since her mother was abandoned as a child and was raised by family members who didn’t want her. Her mother supported herself through high school and I believe that left a mark upon Hillary to enact policy. No child should feel unwanted and every child should have opportunities for success in their life (About Hillary, 2017). Instead of going right to a prestigious law firm, Mrs. Clinton chose to work for the Children’s Defense Fund once she graduated from Yale Law (Clinton, 2016). I believe this shows where her beliefs lay, that she would rather choose a job that she’s passionate about more than a bigger paycheck, at least in the beginning of her career.
During her run as First Lady, Hillary fought for the right of children to receive healthcare regardless of family income (About Hillary, 2017). Earlier, when her husband was Governor of Arkansas, she ushered in the HIPPY program - which helps parents teach their children at home before they begin kindergarten (Early Childhood Ed. 2017). After she became Senator of New York she called for a national initiative to establish high-quality pre-K programs. When she ran for Presidency one of her bigger ideas, that was criticized by some as frivolous spending, was universal preschool for all Americans starting at 4 years of age (Early Childhood Ed., 2017). On top of that, one of her initiatives that was very close to me was increasing high-quality childcare on college campuses. This was taken from her website about this issue: “Student parents face many challenges, with greater financial and time constraints that many of their peers. College students who are parents leave school with an average debt that is 25% higher than non-parents. The demands of parenting mean that students spend two hours less on average per day on educational activities” (Early Childhood Ed., 2017). I can tell you first hand this is spot on. Though I was able to work something out with my father watching my daughter during class, it is still incredibly hard to find time to study and finish assignments. Having set childcare so I could focus on school during a set time each week would have made this semester immensely less stressful for my whole family.
Mrs. Clinton’s ethical fortitude has come into question quite a few times in her public life time. From the far right they criticize not only her policy but how she conducts business for herself and for her family’s foundation. From the far left they regard her as not progressive enough. They question what means she’s used to obtain end results.
One could write a book just on the criticisms people have for Hillary so I’ll just highlight a couple I feel are valid. The Clinton Foundation has accepted millions of dollars from foreign governments and other entities (Chait, 2016). This leaves many questioning her allegiances. Though she said the Clinton Foundation would stop taking donations from foreign governments, many still think she is in those donors’ pockets (Chait, 2016).
Others chastise Hillary for her moderate stances on issues. When Clinton was a Senator she approved of the invasion into Iraq (Scher, 2016). She used to have a more conservative stance on marriage, though that has changed. Though she has always had universal healthcare in mind, she never executed it well. During her husband’s presidency he tried to pass universal health coverage. She spearheaded that part of his agenda and failed completely to bring it to fruition (Scher, 2016). The author of her biography A Woman In Charge believes this has plagued her ever since and kept her more neutral about universal healthcare. The effect of which was seen as a big negative for progressive voters in the last election.
Reality and Courage
“The American character is both idealistic and realistic: why can't our government reflect both?” Remarks to the Senate's Council on Foreign Relations (31 October 2006)
In this quote we can really see that vision and reality are two sides of the same coin. Hillary Clinton strives for her ideals but in a realistic manner. She has ideas about how our government should be run, as well as how society should treat women children and education but she approaches it in a realistic manner. Some of her close aides have said that she approaches her progressive agenda realistically (North, 2016).
“People can judge me for what I’ve done. And I think when somebody’s out in the public eye, that’s what they do. So I’m fully comfortable with who I am, what I stand for, and what I’ve always stood for.” From an interview with Gwen Ifill (25 June 2014)
Hillary has dealt with the hard blows for reality all her life. Between dealing with her husbands transgressions, to losing the White House twice in her life, Hillary know what the hard bed of reality feels like. But this doesn’t stop her from moving forward, and that is what courage is - facing reality despite your hardships. When she faced her audience after a tumultuous face off against Trump she acknowledged her disappointment but still made a call to action to keep fighting;
“I know how disappointed you feel because I feel it too, and so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort. This is painful and it will be for a long time, but I want you to remember this. Our campaign was never about one person or even one election, it was about the country we love and about building an America that's hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted.” - Concession Speech Nov 9, 2016.
It was a hard night for women in general, but instead of wallowing she faced reality and had the courage to approach the stage and exclaimed that this was not a time to mourn women’s rights, it was a time to embolden them. This was her baton pass to all of the other women in America and around the world to and be courageous be in passion and stand up for what they believe. And that is incredibly courageous whether you believe in her ideals and her vision or not.
“You know, everybody has setbacks in their life, and everybody falls short of whatever goals they might set for themselves. That's part of living and coming to terms with who you are as a person.” - People interview (December 28, 1992)
Courage, in this area, you are hard pressed to deny that this woman does not have. Hillary has always fought for what she believes in. She has never been afraid of showing her passion for politics and for moving forward the rights of women even in the face of people who are hesitant to accept it. We can see that first hand in her 1995 speech in Beijing. Many advisers of the Clinton administration counseled her not to go. In the 90s it was still quite controversial for a first lady to delve into such a delicate diplomatic issue (Chozick, 2015). But that didn’t stop her. She saw that, as First Lady, she could make a difference and wasn’t afraid to go the against status quo.
“Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. When you stumble, keep faith. When you're knocked down, get right back up. And never listen to anyone who says you can't or shouldn't go on.” Washington D.C., June 7, 2008
In conclusion, Hillary Rodham Clinton is undoubtedly a leader of our times. She has impassioned others to run for office. She has enraged others with her stances. She is a flawed individual like all humans are, but I believe she owns up to that for the most part, and that is an important part of being a leader.
On a more personal note, Hillary has always reminded me of my Grandma Shirley. They have similar features and similar values. Right now, she is dying of cancer. A big part of why I chose Mrs. Clinton was for her. She is a staunch Democrat and Hillary supporter. I think though I wasn’t writing about her directly, this has made me feel like I am honoring her. Grandma Shirley is a true progressive. I think (though some will disagree) Hillary can be described as such as well - a true progressive and a true leader.
Now, let's move forward, and on.
Filed under: Human Rights