Hillary Clinton’s Mistake

I don’t want you to make the mistake that Hillary Clinton appears to have made in the recent tragedy in Benghazi, Libya. It’s a key point for leaders and leadership.

As you may know, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, visited five talk shows on the Sunday following the killings of four Americans on September 11, 2012. Rice said, wrongly, that the event resulted from spontaneous protests over a video filmed in the United States. This statement has caused a firestorm of criticism during the past several weeks. It’s part of what has become a diplomatic and international disaster for the Obama Administration.

Here’s where Hillary Clinton comes in, and here is what I want you to avoid if you ever get in a situation of high pressure, human loss, and serious mistakes.

Secretary of State Clinton, Rice’s boss, had been invited to go on the talk shows. She declined. She said she was tired and was still in “crisis-management” mode, five days after the killings. Instead, Clinton directed Rice to do the appearances.

Several years ago, I, Dan Miller, was engaged to write a history of a tragedy that had befallen an organization. People had died. Fault was assigned.

One of the things I found was that the formal leaders of this organization had done an outstanding job of handling the task of dealing publicly with the issue in the days and weeks that followed. Let me repeat–they did a fantastic job of grappling with a horrible event.

None of these leaders said they were tired. None said they were too much in a particular frame of mind to speak publicly; in fact, they viewed public speaking as one of their most important responsibilities. None of them told underlings to take on a thankless task of difficult explanations.

If you as a leader have a part in an intense situation, don’t shirk your duties. Don’t deflect the burdens to someone else. Don’t sidestep the hard moment.

She’s effective as a leader in other ways, I suppose, but in this case Hillary Clinton shows you exactly what not to do.