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Hillary lost NOT because she is a woman

November 18, 2016 Articles, In the news, Leadership No Comments
Hillary Clinton

Paul Vanderbroeck, PhD

Leadership Expert “Helping Leaders Get the Results They Want”.

Hillary lost NOT because she is a woman, but rather because she under leveraged being a woman. For ambitious women leaders there is much to learn from Hillary Clinton’s failure to reach the US Presidency. It would be a shame to draw the wrong conclusions, however.

UNDER LEVERAGING THE DIFFERENCE OF BEING A WOMAN Hillary’s message has been understood as “Because of all the things I have achieved and thanks to my network with world leaders things will stay the same, despite being a woman.” Whereas her message should have been: “Because I am different, i.e. a woman, things will change, i.e. for the better”.

UNDERPLAYING HER COMPETENCE Hillary’s key message, and of her surrogates, was “there has never been a candidate more experienced than Hillary Clinton.” Michelle Obama even emphasized that Hillary had more experience than Barack Obama when he was a candidate. But who won when Hillary and Barack were in competition? So Hillary’s message has been really understood as: “Because she has MORE experience than Trump, she is AS GOOD AS him (a man).” Which essentially reads as: “Because she is a woman, she needs more experience to qualify.” Better would have been: “Hillary Clinton is competent, period. This competence will allow her to realize her vision, which is…”.

ALLOWING HERSELF TO BE LOCKED INTO A STEREOTYPE Rather than regularly alternating between different, but distinctively feminine types, she overemphasized the type of woman that criticizes a man’s bad behavior, which locked her into the “nasty woman” stereotype. This, if anything, has caused some misogyny. Not in the sense of not wanting to elect a woman but not this particular stereotype of woman. What a shame Hillary hardly ever emphasized being a grandmother for example: able to care of the nation.

Previously, I have suggested some points that could have contributed to a winning strategy for Hillary Clinton. At the risk of sounding pedantic, I believe in the interest of lacking these as well.

BANKING ON INEVITABILITY Being the first woman, clearly, is not enough to get elected. Hillary failed to make the case to those voters who are less motivated by the gender argument why she should be the next president beyond being the first woman to achieve this. For the same reason, a lot of energy is still being wasted in organizations to get more women to the top merely based on the argument of equality rather than added value. For talented women, but particularly for the organizations that miss out on female leadership talent, it is a pity that so few organizations “get this”.

TOO DEPENDENT ON HER HUSBAND Hillary failed to mobilize the electorate around her own, independent vision for America. She stayed too close to the legacy of Bill Clinton’s Presidency, hoping that she could ride the wave of his popularity. In a way, it was not quite clear who of the Clintons would wield the power in the White House.

NOT ADDRESSING BILL CLINTON’S BEHAVIOR TOWARDS WOMEN. Hillary was right in attacking Donald Trump’s despicable behavior towards women. But she failed to admit to her husband’s equally reprehensible behavior. This undermined her credibility and prevented her from taking the moral high ground, as Michelle Obama rightly suggested.

Hillary’s defeat does not make it more difficult for women to reach the top, provided they do not fall into the same traps. Irrespective of the result, Hillary Clinton deserves thanks for providing other women with a learning opportunity. I have researched women leaders who did make it to the top, because they provide clearer lessons in leadership and career development than those who don’t. Still, Hillary Clinton’s case holds helpful lessons, too, for those refuse to play the victim card and who allow themselves to look beyond blaming Hillary’s fate merely on misogyny.


Paul Vanderbroeck PhD, brings his expertise in leadership and talent management to 20-first. He is specialized in the success of women leaders in large multinationals and the success of such organizations by leveraging female talent. His most recent article The Traps That Keep Women from Reaching the Top and How to Avoid Them won an Excellence Award. He has just published Leadership Strategies for Women: Lessons from Four Queens on Leadership and Career Development (Heidelberg 2014). http:/www.linkedin.com/in/paulvanderbroeck


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