Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How Hillary Clinton Derailed Her Career - Part II

By assuming she’d be the inevitable nominee of the Democratic party, Senator Hillary Clinton clouded her assessment of the situation long before the first votes were cast in the Iowa caucus.

She violated the most basic principles any executive needs to follow when taking on a new assignment. Assume nothing and assess everything.

She did not fully recognize the situation she was in, was unable to acknowledge the new reality and miscalculated what elements she needed for success. Three things any new leader in any new role must get right.

As the Senator continued to onboard herself into her new role as leader of a national political campaign, she faced another challenge familiar to anyone who has tried to get off the ground quickly in a new job.

Build the team

Few things derail an executive’s path to success as much as having the wrong people around them.

I have heard countless leaders complain, after they have lost their jobs, that they waited too long to “get rid of dead wood” or make the staff changes needed to ensure success.

By building a strategy, based on an assessment built on a faulty assumption, the Senator from NY did not surround herself with all the “right people.” While her team was comprised of world-class talent, they did not necessarily have the skills, input or perspective needed to succeed in the new reality Hillary found herself in.

The assessment was off, the strategy was off and the resource requirements were off.

As Iowa approached, cracks in her armor of inevitability began to be revealed in the polls as another critical component of the onboarding process snuck up on her.

Secure early victories

It’s a lot easier to set a positive impression right from the outset than it is to change perceptions later on. And critical to that is the importance of securing early victories near the outset of any new endeavor.

In a corporate environment, early victories tell others “we got the right person” while failures cause others to withhold judgment or outright believe a mistake was made.

In a national political contest, an early victory bolsters the impression of a front-runner while a failure can set an entire campaign into a tailspin.

Hillary’s third place finish in Iowa, based in large part on a poorly conducted assessment, caused her to emphasize the wrong issues, underestimate her competitors and promote a vision unaligned with her constituents.

As would prove true, failure to secure early wins and avoid early failures is a prime cause of career derailment among executives in new roles.

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