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Granny for President!

Posted by on Apr 26, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Note: As some of you will have noticed, for the last two weeks my blog was shut down. It’s now… not shut down! As of today I’m resuming posting, though the piece below was written a couple of weeks ago, before I realized I had been muzzled. Subsequent to today, all blogs will again have their previous immediacy. 


In the just published Epilogue to her year old memoir, Hard Choices, which focused on her years as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton reinvents herself. Rather than providing a pertinent postscript to her original volume, Clinton chose this time around to speak in a different voice – an altogether feminine one.

We know why. We know that she and her advisors made a deliberate decision to soften her image, to embrace her womanly side rather than shy away from it. They presume that in order for a female to win the White House she will have to shed some of the masculine, or more typically leader-like characteristics that got Clinton to where she is in the first place, and instead don the mantle of femininity.

Like the good student she famously is, Clinton has shed her old skin nearly entirely. Her Epilogue is nothing as much as an ode not only to her role as a mother and grandmother, but also, if you can believe it, to her role as a wife.

She writes adoringly – yes, adoringly – of husband Bill, who spoke on the night of the 2012 Democratic convention. “I had to smile when I saw him take the stage in front of the enthusiastic crowd…. He still loved the excitement of a great political moment…”I was full of pride for the former president I married….”

She writes adoringly of memories of daughter Chelsea: “When Chelsea was born I was full of nerves…. I was unprepared for the sheer wonder and responsibility of parenthood. I prayed that I would be a good enough mother …. It was magical and terrifying all at the same time… When Chelsea was little, Bill and I read to her nonstop….Goodnight Moon was a particular favorite.”

But mostly, by a wide margin, Hillary Clinton writes adoringly about granddaughter Charlotte. When Charlotte was born, she and Bill sat quietly, “holding hands, trying to process the rush of emotions. I looked over and saw a tear in Bill’s eye.”

In the weeks subsequent, Bill and Hillary “spent as much time as we could visiting and helping” the new parents. She watched glowingly as Bill carried Charlotte “around our house, stopping at nearly every book on the shelf to explain the plot and how much she will enjoy reading it one day.”

Every day with Charlotte, Clinton writes, is “a miracle.” Charlotte’s every gesture “sweeps” her off her feet. Charlotte, she continues, “has already helped me see the world in new ways.” And so it goes. The topper though is the connection between Charlotte and her grandmother’s decision to run for president. It is Charlotte who has made Clinton think “deeply about the responsibility we all share as stewards of the world.” It is Charlotte who, instead of making her want to slow down, has “spurred” her instead to “speed up.”

It is no accident that while Clinton writes freely and gladly about being a wife and mother, the role she focuses on is that of grandmother. A lot of words have been spilled about why even in the second decade of the 21st century so few American women are in positions of leadership. This applies across the board – in business and politics, in the military, even in the larger nonprofits. I have written about the virtues of androgyny – adopting an androgynous style of leadership – as a way for women who want to be leaders to get around the double bind of being perceived as either too feminine or too masculine. What Clinton clearly has concluded is that tethering herself to Charlotte is a way for her to be seen as very much a woman – but as a particular kind of woman. An old woman – or, at least, a relatively old woman. To be a grandmother is, to put it bluntly, to be generally perceived as past your feminine prime. As a woman you are no longer threatening in a way you might have been twenty years earlier.

Call it a double standard. No man running for president would dream of going on about being a grandfather as fulsomely as has Hillary Clinton about being a grandmother. But, if it helps get her to the White House, who cares? Certainly not Hillary, or Bill, or Chelsea, or, presumably, Charlotte.


Barbara Kellerman teaches Women and Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Her most recent books is, Hard Times: Leadership in America.


The Artist as Leader – Bob Dylan

Posted by on Apr 9, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

One of the defects of the Leadership Industry is that it is isolated from the arts. Notwithstanding some exceptions, it is separate and distinct both from the fine arts and the liberal arts.

This apartheid was brought to mind by a recent article on Bob Dylan. The author, Richard Woodward, emphasized Dylan as a musical trailblazer, as a leader of other musicians who followed him in droves. Woodward writes, “Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ 50 years old on Sunday [March 22nd], has as strong a claim as any album of its day to be called the spark that ignited the music of the 1960s…. Lyrics with jagged edges, enigmatic visions of America adrift accompanied by dark, cynical laughter, were not common until Mr. Dylan’s surrealist poetry entered the mainstream of popular song.”*

But Dylan’s leadership was not limited. He led not only other musicians, but large swaths of the American people. Dylan played Pied Piper to a whole generation of mostly (though by no means wholly) young Americans thrilled to have found a troubadour they thought their own. Here is where came into play not so much Dylan’s music as his lyrics – that peculiar, particular, protest poetry that people have found perpetually powerful and persuasive.

“Blowin’ in the Wind,” arguably the most iconic of his tunes, has spoken as eloquently to those involved in civil rights movements – “Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?” – as to those involved in antiwar movements.

“Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly

Before they’re forever banned? …

Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?”

Is this man, then, Bob Dylan, not a leader? A leader of his own kind, other musicians? And a leader in addition of countless numbers the world over who yearn to be emboldened by his art, so that they too can find their voice and speak truth to power?


“Dylan’s Double Personality,” Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2015.


Obama the Pitchman

Posted by on Apr 6, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Mostly the incumbent president is loath to get his hands dirty. Mostly he seems to believe that a good idea, a good policy, should sell itself, Mostly he has avoided the wheeling and dealing, the personal politicking, that is necessary to get things done in Washington.  To this general rule there has been one exception – the Affordable Care Act – but only one or, at least, only one that stands out.

Now it appears that there is a second exception. It appears that President Obama intends to go all out during the next three months to try to sell to the American people, and to the American Congress, and to the world at large the virtues of moving from a draft nuclear deal with Iran to a permanent one.

The most striking indicator so far of Obama’s investment in this arrangement is his extended one on one interview with New York Times foreign affairs columnist, Tom Friedman. The interview, conducted in the Oval Office on Saturday afternoon, was wide-ranging and far-reaching, and clearly targeted at a large audience not only at home, but abroad. The full text was promptly posted on line, as was a video. Moreover Friedman was quick himself to write an extended piece about the substance of what the president said – which Friedman framed as the “Obama Doctrine.” What is the Obama Doctrine? It is Obama’s conviction that “engagement,” in combination with meeting America’s strategic needs, better serves the national interest than the endless sanctions against three countries that have long been isolated from the international community: Burma, Cuba, and Iran.

My point though is not about what precisely the president will be saying. It is about how precisely he will be saying it. How will Obama try to sell the agreement with Iran in a context that is so inhospitable?  In a context in which so many of his political opponents – and even some of his political allies – are questioning not only the substance of the deal but the legality of trying to secure it without Congressional approval?

I will say that the president seems to get it. That the president seems to get that he has no choice on this one but to pitch his wares as persistently and persuasively as he knows how. Even if it means getting his hands soiled in ways that he typically finds personally and politically distasteful.



Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Posted by on Apr 4, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

In the old days – say two, three, four years ago – I used to feel I had to prove my point. I used to feel I had to make a case for the proposition that the world was changing. That leaders were getting weaker and that followers – others – were getting stronger.

Now it’s rather like shooting fish in a barrel. Now it’s so screamingly obvious that leaders are lesser than they used to be, it would seem the case was closed.

This is not of course to say that leaders are irrelevant or unimportant. It’s obvious that leaders still matter. Just this week a potentially historic arms control agreement was reached between the leaders of Iran and the leaders of the world’s major powers, an understanding that would have been impossible to broker without the men at the helm.

However, leaders in both Iran and the United States remain vulnerable between now and the end of June to having the deal undone by a host of emboldened opponents, who want nothing so much as to unravel the accord their leaders laboriously stitched together.

Moreover the furor that engulfed the governors of Indiana and Arkansas in the last week, and then forced them both immediately to backtrack while simultaneously eating crow, was a reminder that if you happen to pit leaders against followers on an issue about which the latter feel fervently, the former likely will lose.

Nor are the pressures confined to leaders in government – a truism to which Lufthansa’s CEO Carsten Spohr could be the first to testify. He was too quick to claim in the aftermath of that Germanwings (a Lufthansa subsidiary) crash in the Alps that the pilot and co-pilot were “100% airworthy.” Only a few days later did we learn that years ago were signs the co-pilot was anything other than 100 % airworthy, and that, in fact, it was he who was solely responsible for the crash that claimed the lives of the 150 people on board the ill-fated airliner.

It’s not clear that Spohr will ultimately be forced out as a result of this tragedy. But the attacks on him personally and professionally must be making his life miserable. Fairly or unfairly Spohr is being held to account for what would appear to be mismanagement at lower levels of the organization long before he even became chief executive officer. A German newspaper based in Dusseldorf, where the plane was headed, was typical – it minced no words. It said that Lufthansa’s admission that it had known of the co-pilot’s mental health problems was a “helpless attempt to prevent company chief Carsten Spohr, with his fatal words ‘100 percent flightworthy’” from appearing “as a liar ripe for resignation.”

The benefits of being a leader can clearly be many. But, just as clearly, so now can be the costs. Leaders have become fat targets for followers bent on venting their frustrations.



Posted by on Apr 1, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

My most recent book – Hard Times: Leadership in America – was published in October by Stanford University Press. The book explores the impact of context on leadership and followership.

Beginning February 3, I started posting in this space excerpts. They appear here in the order in which they appear in the book.

Excerpt from Chapter 7 – Organizations

“In spite of unanticipated consequences…, and in spite of unending debates about the various virtues and deficits of the flattened hierarchy, in the past several decades the conviction that at least somewhat flatter is at least somewhat better gradually took hold. In 1980, fewer than 20 percent of companies on the Fortune 1000 list claimed at least some sort of team management structure. By 1990, it was 50 percent, and by 2000 it was 80 percent. Obviously, not every organization adapted in ways that ultimately were meaningful. Moreover, even now many and maybe even most organizations retain rather a rigidly hierarchical governance structure – not so distant from [Max] Weber’s original conception. Gradually, however, there evolved the conventional wisdom that even the most hidebound organizations would do well to be somewhat flatter in the future than they had been in the past. Even the most hidebound organizations were advised to ‘flatten their informal channels of communication and influence, which all management theory admits are as important … as an organization’s formal structures.’”