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The Inspiring Leadership Qualities of Former US President Bill Clinton

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The Inspiring Leadership Qualities of Former US President Bill Clinton.

One criteria which garner a public’s respect for their leadership, is their ethic’s. Perhaps in terms of values and ethics, the former United States President Bill Clinton did not deliver the proverbial goods. It appears obvious that the directives around which a leader builds his ideas should be in the best interests of his/her countries. As with a business, a political leader needs to be honest and open with their public or employees.

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Yet in order to examine the exact impact his prior leadership skills had on the United States we have to analyze his leadership and ethical background as US president from his inauguration to the famous impeachment trials which drew audiences from around the world. In all cases of political discourse, rhetoric is always what prospective followers want to hear and not necessarily what will happen.

            “Bill Clinton’s leadership is paying off. How can you tell?

By what the American people have achieved themselves.

Just look at what all of us have created together these last four years.”(Vice President, 28 August 1996)

In the above quote from the “Address By The Vice President To The Democratic Convention” in Chicago, Illinois, highlights one perspective of President Clintons leadership. According to this address: “Ten million new jobs. A deficit cut in half. A smaller, leaner reinvented government working better and costing less. Unemployment and inflation both down. Record exports. Wages on the rise. An economy moving forward.”(Ibid.) In light of this evidence it appears that Clinton fulfilled one major role as a leader, and that was to provide successful and visible results in terms of what the public needs and wants. His response was directive and goal driven. With regards to his leadership skills, they were executed with a type of charisma and finesse that made him unforgettable as a statesman.

            Yet Clinton will remain an enigma for other reasons which are less commendable. Admittedly, in terms of motivation, direction and interaction, Clinton can be seen as a leader of merit. There is one major facet of leadership, however that complicates and eliminates all others and that is his behaviour. As a leader, those employed under you, and those who are reliant on you, see you as a moral and ethical model upon which they can build and motivate themselves. Ethically, his liaison with Monica Lewinsky became his downfall even amidst drug scandals and other conduct related debates. What was termed in military semantics as Conduct Unbecoming befits a man of Clinton’s status for one extremely important reason: as a public figure and standing for the advocacy of moral obligation to wife and family, he flouted one of the moral values held to be important to the American public. In the same way as businesses discourage intimate relations within their infrastructure, it complicates the running of a country or a business. And a country needs to run in the same way as a business is. This is because it is an economic fountain, recycling commodities and income in order to bring in more of each. As a media frenzy ensued, surprisingly or not, two people gained exposure from the incident: Monica Lewinsky and Hillary Clinton. At present Hillary (Rodham) Clinton is enjoying her own success as a candidate for presidency, which may possibly not have happened had the spotlight not been placed on her wounded presence and the fact that her husband was now forbidden from the candidacy.

            Having outlined both the merits and faults of Clintons leadership, we will discuss in detail how these traits contributed to the success and collapse of the Clinton Administration. Leadership is both a psychological and a social peculiarity. Using the Charismatic Leadership Model and according to the writings of Verstehende sociologist Max Weber, charisma is first and foremost what draws the public to the person. What is charisma? Charisma refers to a set of social attributes such as oratorical skills, self-confidence and amicable, approachable personality. According to lecture notes no.2 the leader must be able to handle crises of varying degrees, the leader must also have extraordinary oratory gifts and be able to display to his/her public the confidence in themselves that their voters will believe in them. Bill Clinton has inspired in me the need to gain sufficient confidence to portray myself as charismatic. As one of the most valuable assets of a leader, for me this is important. According to media expert Thomas Murrell, Clinton’s speeches can be analyzed in terms of marketing strategy. Murrell describes that Clinton’s speech for example in Perth on the 23 February 2002, was directed at humanitarian needs and understanding those of ordinary people (Murrell, 2005). This is important in identifying with those who voted you in are those that will keep you there and if you cannot, or elect not to deliver on your promises, it puts you immediately in a bad light. In this particular speech Clinton’s entrance was grand, as Murrell describes:  “The emotion in the room was electric and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!”(Ibid.) In this sense, Clinton needed not use any other method to gain the attention of those present. Also accordingly Murrell the music playing on his entry was light-hearted and easy, which puts all present at ease in his presence. It further extends the ability of Clinton to associate himself with the public and does not de-humanise him. Murrell describes Clinton himself as having a magnetic personality, exuding confidence. Murrell further explains the well constructed speech including a strong introduction, use of goals and directives as well as repetition and metaphor, all of which speak to the congregation. This would be another perspective inspiring me to become a leader, the use of honest and directed, meaningful and necessary issues to bring together a sense of unity.

            In a paper written by presidential expert Dr Schoenberg, he analyses Clinton’s leadership in terms of growth and expansion. He also explains Clintons rule in terms of 10 leadership lessons: Firstly, being a risk taker. Never taking risks, never gains you anything. In politics particularly, there is never an obvious route and an obvious outcome to what may occur. Running for candidacy is a risk on its own. Schoenberg further explains that against George Bush (the first), “Only Bill Clinton, Democratic governor of the small state of Arkansas, was willing to challenge the incumbent Republican president.”(Schoenberg, 2001). The first hurdle therefore was for Clinton to pit himself against the established governance of the Republican president. Clintons success is therefore noteworthy insomuch as he was seen as an outsider. Secondly, he has extraordinary communication skills and is able to bring across his own objectives without alienating the public and drawing analogies from simple things makes him understood. Thirdly, as mentioned before in the Charismatic Leadership Model, he is able to make others believe in him by getting involved in public liaisons and furthering his understanding of those on a lower social stratum. As a fourth commendation, Schoenberg says Clinton is able to stand up for himself and for others and therefore makes him seem like a mascot for the masses. Schoenberg explains the story of Clinton’s abusive stepfather, to whom Clinton himself stood up and took the punishment for himself. This is a particularly commendable trait in my eyes, feeling strongly that a leader should both accept his role and fight for the rights of those under him. This goes too for the fifth lesson, which includes showing compassion for those around you. American history is shrouded with various atrocities against humanity, beginning with the Revolution and Civil War and extending to the bombing of Heroshima and Nagasaki, but Clinton was able to get to grass roots level and stand by certain moral obligations. Schoenberg describes how Clinton, despite his stepfather’s previous iniquities, visited him on weekends when he was dying of cancer.

What I have learnt from this is to draw away from grudges and make what you have faced into something good. It is a basic rule for anyone wishing to enhance a following. Lesson six revolves on a need for constant learning, which is perhaps amongst Clinton’s strongest assets. Including his debacle with Monica Lewinsky, he managed to amend his shortcomings before facing the next pitfall. It is necessary here to understand that regardless of whom you are always what your social standing, you are always subject to correction. No one knows everything. A seventh lesson Schoenberg believes is to use opportunity when it arises. Schoenberg describes the strategy Clinton used when he was to meet John Kennedy, that Clinton stood as close to the beginning of the line as he would be more likely to get a photograph. Simple as it may seem, this was a marketing strategy that did not fall short of simple tactics. As an eighth lesson Clinton learned from failures and mistakes. Initially Clinton did not focus on specific issues, thereby almost losing his office, but the Republican opposition did not succeed in impeaching him that time. Along with lesson 8, is lesson nine that preaches of taking care of the big things and allowing the little things to take care of themselves. This I do not entirely agree with, as I believe this may have been a contributing factor to the Lewinsky scandal. Not allowing specific attention to be drawn to factors that fundamentally question moral grounds is dishonest and unsuccessful. The last factor Schoenberg reminds us of, is the legacy you leave behind. He believes Clinton left a legacy of peace and prosperity, none of which, sadly, are visible today. Would Clinton perhaps have dealt with Iraq in a different manner? Possibly, but needless to say, there is little evidence of peace in the United States, and the economy is slowly grinding its way into what some believe to resemble toe 1929 Wall Street Crash.[1] Compared to the Bush Administration then, Bill Clinton may hold a higher rank in terms of leadership and oratory skills, since Bush is renowned for his verbal malfunctioning.

            If Clinton’s rule is considered through the eyes of the Multiple Linkage Model[2], Clinton gives us a framework on which to decipher his potency as a leader. Leader Characteristics and traits displayed include successful communication with the public, oratorical abilities, empathy with the masses and genuine attempts to address their issues. In terms of Leader Behaviour, Clinton’s motivations were obviously to succeed in one way or other in the government of the United States. Initially, as mentioned previously, his planning (in terms of issue addressing), may not have been the best, but learning as he went along, helped him become considerably more successful at the process. The United States may have been ripe for change at that time, making new parliamentary blood seem more necessary. Republican protocol seemed a little too antiquated for the constantly changing technological and economic climate of the 1990’s in the US, making the perfect environment for Clinton to step in with his bright, optimistic and hand’s on approach. The situational variables therefore were in place for him to make a grand entry. Intervening variable however relied on Clinton’s ability to draw his followers to him and not as much on organisational skills. This is seen only at first with his lack of focus on specific problems, such as healthcare. End results for his overall election were, as in the opening paragraph, satisfactory in dealing with many issues of unemployment, social security and foreign trade. I realise, with these instances shown, that a good leader needs to be goal orientated, multi-faceted and be able to think on various levels. It is also important to be able to adapt, as Clinton does, to any crisis that presents itself. As is also appropriate, while crisis is mostly short – lived, change is permanent.

            In one instance, looking particularly at the on-going Iraqi problem, Clinton also appears to be solid in his decision making process. Clearly stated in the lecture notes 3 is the fact that there are no formal methods of training, that in fact a degree of leadership qualities is inherent to those in question (Kempster, 15/10/2007, Lecture 3). What makes Bill Clinton a better leader than say for instance, Saddam Hussein, may not be anything to do with a lack of skill as much as a lack of cultivation of these skills. One learns, that through hardship[3], a person is able to use the wisdom (such as Clinton’s relationship to his stepfather), in order to mentor others. This means, to be effective one must not become emotionally detached from past experience. Saddam Hussein grew up under the wing of his uncle after his father died. It was in an impoverished family. He decided to use his childhood suffering as motivation to be a great person, whether it be by diplomacy, sacrifice or terror (Post , 1990)[4]. Unfortunately, he did not use this experience to better others, but to bring them down. As a form of apprenticeship and being strangely relating to the Iraqi problem CNN News recognised the difficulties Clinton was to face in this field. “Clinton Faces Rocky Path In Iraq Crisis”, states the following: “In preparing the nation for a possible war with Iraq, President Bill Clinton faces a series of obstacles, including a skeptical Congress and less international backing than President George Bush enjoyed during 1991 Persian Gulf War.”(Staats, 1998, AllPolitics)[5]. This is referring to the fears of impending nuclear/bio-warfare Iraq was threatening. Tentatively, had Clinton done what Bush has done now, he would have incurred such uproar as to terminate his actions. According to this report that two thirds of the public agreed with how Clinton was handling the situation, again supporting the idea that although he did not have to backing of his fellow parliamentarians, he had the support of the public. Having created this public belief in himself, the public already had faith enough in him to support his actions, and this would be both important and commendable for me as a leader too. The problem with support with regards to Iraq came with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, as the report states that Clinton started losing support gradually with the public and other politicians believing that if Clinton could lie about moral issues, could he lie about his intentions on Iraq? This was Clintons biggest mistake, where being amiable, approachable and likeable, could not spare him the damaging effects of the evidence against him. Where ethical and moral issues are concerned, a leader cannot make this kind of mistake, especially when families look up to you for moral guidance.

“In this public test of wills with Hussein, Clinton has tried to stake out the moral high ground. He has talked about “the chance to do the right thing for our children and grandchildren.”

But some of his political opponents think Clinton cannot claim the moral high ground, not now, not after the past month’s lurid tales. As restrained as Republicans have been in discussing the Lewinsky controversy, there are signs that approach is ending.”(Ibid.)

This is the unfortunate mistake I have learnt from Bill Clinton, that regardless of the explicit sexual nature of the act, it seemed also a small, insignificant act to him. It undermined all other decisions he was to make. The analogy of leader and follower, uses a pilot and plane maintenance crew to describe the necessity of being specific ( Kempster, 21/10/2007, Lecture 4). Indeed, if you state that there is evidence of a leak and do not explain what is to be done with the leak, nothing will be. Clinton attempted to put ideas into actions.  As a leader the importance of garnering public confidence may not be as difficult as maintaining it. In terms of the differences between morality and ethics, with regard to Bill Clinton, his particular immoral act cannot be separated form ethic’s this is because of the public nature of his standing, which is quite different from a media point of view from business ethics.

To conclude, there are quite obvious reasons why former president Bill Clinton should not be seen as an ideal leader, but I have seen in his actions various attributes that I see to be valuable in leadership, not least of all that of self-confidence. Confidence is a major attribute for me as it allows you the freedom of making decisions without questioning them to the point that they become defunct. It is a necessary to be seen as moral and ethical and although it was an option to move into Iraq with military action, Clinton did not, no to the extent that President Bush has. There are obviously reasons for each persons actions, sometimes not known to the public, but I see transparency as an attribute too. The fact that Clinton has to some degree reinvented himself is also a leadership attribute which becomes valuable to the leader or aspiring leader. There is a need in the world of someone who is able to reinvent themselves, pick themselves up and be resilient to all trials and tribulations they may face.

2850 words.


“Address By The Vice President To The Democratic National Convention. 29 August 1996. Clinton & Gore Election 1996. http://www.4president.org/speeches/clintongore1996convention.htm

Mc Call, Lombardo & Morrison. 1988. Lecture Notes no. 3. 15/10/2007.

Murrell, Thomas. 12 August 2005. “Speech Writing Secrets Of President Bill Clinton.” EzineArticles  12 January 2008 <http://ezinearticles.com/?Speech-Writing-Secrets-Of-President-Bill-Clinton&id=59477>.

Post, J Dr.1990. “Explaining Saddam Hussein: A Psychological Profile.” 12 January 2008.


Staats, Craig. 18 February 1998. “Clinton Faces Rocky Path In Iraq Crisis.” CNN/Time, AllPolitics. 12 January 2008. http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/02/18/iraq.political.analysis/

Schoenberg, Phillip Dr. 2001. “Bill Clinton on Leadership”. The Presidential Expert. 12 January 2008.


[1] The above lessons come from “Bill Clinton on Leadership”, Dr Phillip Schoenberg. http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/02/18/iraq.political.analysis/
[2] Lecture notes 2 Multi Linkage Model citing Leadership characteristics, Leader behaviour, Situational variables, Intervening variables, End result variables and Personal power.
[3] Lecture notes no.3. Diagram by McCall, Lombardo and Morrison 1988.
[4] Explaining Saddam Hussein : a Psychological Profile. 1990. Dr J Post.
[5] Craig Staats, AllPolitics, CNN 18 February 1998.

Cite this The Inspiring Leadership Qualities of Former US President Bill Clinton

The Inspiring Leadership Qualities of Former US President Bill Clinton. (2016, Aug 15). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-inspiring-leadership-qualities-of-former-us-president-bill-clinton/

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