5 important ways Hillary Clinton is a lousy CEO
Culture warriors judge presidential candidates on social issues, tax-cut aficionados grade economic plans and environmentalists heat up over climate change. At bottom, professionally, I’m a management critic — and for that skill set, learning to love Hillary Clinton is stubbornly hard.
I spent seven years at BusinessWeek, a place that teaches you to size up leaders. BW’s status as a regular stop for technology executives spinning strategies meant being in rooms with everyone from Bill Gates to a surprisingly impressive Carly Fiorina, from startup guys like Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos to established-company leaders like Cisco’s John Chambers. I got Sergey Brin stupendously wrong — after watching him interrupt Larry Page throughout a 1999 lunch, I said (not in print, thank God) Google would blow up as those two killed each other — and understood early how good Netflix’s Reed Hastings is.
The experience gave me a checklist of what excellent leaders do. It doesn’t make Clinton look good.
It’s not just the brouhaha over her e-mail at the State Department, though that’s part of it. It’s how often, and consistently, Clinton misses management basics. Even if one agrees with her on issues, these things go to how effective a president she’ll be. Though she’s running against one of the worst big-stage executives ever in Donald Trump, it still gives pause.
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What does an excellent manager-leader do, and how well does Clinton do it? Consider:
They set vision, and inspire
Quick: Why is Clinton running for president? (“To stop Trump” doesn’t count). She’s been running, arguably, since 1992 and the biggest things she’s asking for a mandate on are public-works pending and child-care subsidies. One knew why Bernie Sanders ran — to smite corporations and redistribute income. Trump’s running to resurrect the relevance of old white guys in coal mines (or so he says). Sanders set the agenda and made her react in the primaries, and Trump’s doing it now.
Great manager/leaders set goals that make thousands of people work their rear ends off. The best recent example is Tesla’s vow to move the world to sustainable energy. No one works at TSLA, -1.46% without knowing the goal. Clinton’s not talking about anything likely to move the nation to do much.
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Barack Obama was a huge innovator when he ran in 2008 — in grass-roots fundraising, using social media, and more. His strategic deftness in exploiting new facts was a big reason to trust him to manage the presidency.
Hillary Clinton got herself into the e-mail scandal that may yet deny her the Oval Office because she didn’t want to give up her BlackBerry or use a desktop PC. ‘Nuff said.
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They attract stars
Trump’s staff turnover has been farcical, true. But how good has Clinton’s team ever been?
Who are the stars? Former State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, whose big job between government posts was at New York University? Huma Abedin? Phillipe Reins, the robotically-on-message flack who told a reporter asking about Benghazi to “f—k off?” In writing? That doesn’t even count her 2008 campaign, famous for its infighting while Team Obama lapped them.
Maybe she’ll get better people when she’s president — but for someone who’s been around for 24 years, her core team’s far from elite, dominated by people known mostly for loyalty to her.
They’re honest, and recognized as such
Wall Street gives Hastings leeway because he established a reputation for being straightforward, and usually right, about Netflix’s challenges — especially which ones were scary (Amazon!),and which weren’t (Blockbuster). Netflix NFLX, -3.17% misses quarterly metrics sometimes, but doesn’t leave analysts feeling bamboozled.
Clinton’s dissembles are rarely major, but there are so many. The e-mail drama is rife with them — the deleted e-mails were personal (except for the handful about Benghazi), and everything was unclassified (again, not many were, but “not many” is not “none”), Colin Powell told her to use personal e-mail accounts (he says he didn’t) and so on. None is Watergate. But cumulatively, they’re hard to ignore.
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They learn from mistakes
Clinton only ever makes one big mistake: She curls into a ball out of fear that enemies are coming. The e-mail stuff is only the latest example, if reports that she got the private server to head off subpoenas that would turn up personal e-mails are true.
E-mail-gate is Travelgate is “lost” Rose Law Firm billing records is the rest of it. Transparency is never the answer for Clinton, and neither is the confidence that the light of day makes House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa go away.
The appalling part is that she never figures this out and makes adjustments. Bezos changes strategies all the time. Good executives do.
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Obama’s the model of the modern president-as-CEO, having set and achieved goals from health-care reform to a wholesale remaking of energy policy. Trump’s failure to stick with basic goals or tell the truth — What’s today’s immigration policy? Who said what about who’s paying for the wall? — doesn’t surprise. Clowns clown.
Clinton’s the puzzle, because she’s the smart person who doesn’t learn. She’ll probably get to the White House. But Clinton-as-CEO suggests she might not do much with it.