Thursday, September 11, 2008

How Hillary Clinton Derailed Her Career - Part III

Coming out of a 3rd place finish in the Iowa caucus, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton reacted the same way many top leaders do when their initial effort to onboard into a new assignment fails. She reassessed.

With the veneer of inevitability gone, she was finally able to reexamine her efforts coldly and clinically. Exactly what she should have done in the first place had she not incorrectly assumed her nomination was a foregone conclusion.

Unfortunately for her, as is often the case when a new assignment is launched based on an incorrect strategy, she was now playing “catch-up.”

And while the Senator from NY was able to make the mid-course corrections necessary to win the New Hampshire primary, the deep systemic changes her campaign needed would take time to implement. And time, as every new leader knows, is in short supply.

Involve everyone

Critical to the success of any executive who onboards into a new role is the ability to get everyone on the same page.

But when you’re trying to right a sinking ship, there’s a tendency to depend on a handful of key staff members to plug the leaks. And while that approach may be necessary in the short-term, more often than not, it doesn't work out long-range.

Because she was now in crisis mode, it was difficult for her to allot the time needed to fully rally all her troops, define mutual challenges and opportunities, and create a common transition language. All the actions that successful new leaders need to do.

Not involving everyone in the effort, no matter how large the organization, is one of the most common reasons new leaders fail.

Plan for contingencies

Even after abandoning the cloak of invincibility, the team that Clinton led still harbored the belief that the February results from “Super Tuesday” would clinch the nomination.

And though she did well in many of those contests, because she failed to fully plan for the possibility of a campaign extending beyond February, she was unprepared to successfully compete in the ensuing run of small state caucuses and primaries.

As the Senator discovered, failing to prepare for contingencies or not having a Plan B at the ready, creates setbacks that can be impossible to recoup from.

Know what success looks like

And finally, to succeed at a new challenge, any executive must first identify and then focus on the metrics that lead to success.

It’s been widely reported that the Clinton campaign staffers didn’t fully understand or appreciate the subtleties of the Democratic Party’s proportional voting process. Hillary chased state-wide victories while her competition effectively allocated their resources into those districts that provided the highest return on investment.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda

Senator Clinton eventually got her campaign back on track and built up an impressive head of steam ... but it was too late.

The takeaway: No matter the level or accomplishments of the leader, failure to effectively onboard into a new role can, and often does, result in career derailment.

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