Leadership – The Clinton style

Kumar Parakala's picture

Over the years, I have had the privilege of meeting many global leaders from all walks of life. Be it politics to religion, corporate to not-for-profit, academia to creative arts to the rock-and-roll of music. In all my interactions with these well-known leaders, I am curious to know and keen to understand the differentiating factor that makes them an effective leader with a great following.

Some of these well-known personalities have a leadership quality that is deeply ingrained within them, while in others I could feel the passion and energy that drove them to become great leaders. As a life-long disciple of leadership development, I often wondered why most people with great intellect and knowledge fail to make a mark as effective leaders. Through my professional journey, I have captured some key takeaways from meeting leaders and renowned personalities.

A few years back I had the opportunity to meet President Bill Clinton in New York when I was invited to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). This was also the meeting when Senator John McCain and now President Obama made their historic speeches extending unilateral support to rescue America from the newly emerging global financial crisis which many of us did not know will continue even after four years.

President Clinton presided over one of the best economic times in recent American history. Well liked by the people, he served even though he had to go through major personal turbulences during his presidency. As I met with him and listened to his emphatic words, I was amazed at the ease with which he spoke. He inspired us to think about the global challenges and set a great ambition combined with passion to deal with these challenges. I was greatly impressed with his ability to see the big picture and the resounding persuasion he used to communicate our role in this action plan. Today, CGI serves 400 million people in 180 countries with a total commitment of $69 Billion.

One of the best leadership qualities in Clinton is his ability to connect with people

When he speaks he devotes his compete attention to having a conversation leaving the individual to believe they are the only two members in a crowded room. He has the ability to talk in simple yet insightful terms which leaves an impact on the people who are listening to him. Many of us refer to this elusive quality as “charisma”.

Clinton has a genuine interest in people with no prejudice whatsoever. He can easily get down to the level of people he speaks with and engage in meaningful conversation. This helps build trust. In my own experience, I had no difficultly trusting President Clinton on what he had to say during the CGI. During the three days of the forum, I waited to see if he had come prepared with a set a solutions which in turn would be forcefully implemented on the global leaders present there. As a former President, it would have been very easy for him dictate his terms. However, this was not the case. Clinton chose to facilitate several session of world leaders asking open ended questions and a consensus was arrived on potential solutions to help solve world problems. Clinton’s leadership style helped create this incredible organisation of global leaders dedicated to building a strong, sustainable global community to address and help alleviate poverty, create a cleaner environment, and increase access to health care and education. He is a great symbol of optimism and hope for many people. Some of the qualities that I have observed in President Clinton are critical traits for corporate leaders today. Leaders need to have an ambition or a vision for the greater good of their organisations and people. Unless they effectively communicate and get down to the level of their subordinates and staff to make them understand and relate to them, they will fail inspire trust. Positional leaders who pull rank to demonstrate their superiority should look at Clinton’s conduct at the CGI to try and build a consensus based decision-making organisation. Corporate leaders should develop a presence by remaining genuine in their people dealings, show empathy and communicate in an effective manner that helps them build lasting and impactful relationships.

My experience of meeting President Clinton in action for three days at CGI greatly helped me understand his qualities of passion, people connect, vision, charisma, effective communication and optimism. It also helped me understand what leadership in action really meant!

Groups audience: