In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the postmortem book trade has been brisk as experts try to explain how exactly we ended up with Donald Trump as president.
And to be honest, I don’t know that I want to keep rehashing that terrible time. I want to move forward and see women get elected like crazy this coming November.
But I was particularly struck by a slim book by Jennifer Palmieri who was Hillary Clinton’s director of communication during the campaign. Titled Dear Madam President: An Open Letter To The Women Who Will Run The World, her book encourages future female leaders to take a new path, to “cast off a man’s version of how a woman leader should act, talk and dress.”
Palmieri encourages the future first female president to lead by leaning into, instead of shying away from, the things that make her different from the men who have come before her.
“You will expand our nation’s comprehension of what it means to be a leader. In its best moments, your presidency will give us a more fully realized sense of leadership — one that combines the best qualities of women and men.”
I love this idea. I’m fully in favor of women leading and showing strength while at the same time being empathetic and nurturing. I think those women will be better, more well-rounded leaders for embracing all sides of their personalities instead of just the sides that fit into the mostly male-defined ideas of being a leader.
A few things Palmieri recommends to the leaders of tomorrow:
Nod less, cry more. When things got bleak on the campaign trail and Palmieri had to tell Clinton or one of her staff some bad news, the women would inevitably react by calmly nodding and then getting down to the business of handling the latest setback. These women, operating at the highest levels of their professions, had trained themselves not to get emotional because to do so would be to show weakness in front of male colleagues and risk being thought of as less-than.
But all of that emotional repression didn’t help anyone. Palmieri herself ended up in the hospital in August of 2016 because of exhaustion and dehydration.
As an alternative, Palmieri suggests women let themselves (and each other) cry. Let’s face it — crying is awesome. It’s a cathartic emotional release that helps you process bad or sad news and reset to move on. It’s only because of our culture that we associate crying with weakness. If more leaders cried, we could start to change that to the benefit of everyone. There’s no reason men shouldn’t also allow themselves a good cry when they need it. Trust me — it helps.
Embrace your battle scars. The presidency ages people. We see it all the time in before-and-after photos of the men who have held the most important job in our country. Those wrinkles are the president’s battle scars. Men are expected to gray and wrinkle — it adds dignity. Women, not so much. Clinton had to add hours on to each day to go through hair and makeup to present her freshest face to the world at every campaign event. It was a built-in time tax that her male opponents didn’t have to pay.
Palmieri writes: “I think your battle scars can be a comfort to the rest of us. They will show us what you have endured and tell us what we can survive. I hope you will let them show.”
I love the idea of women being able to look their age and not be dismissed. We’re definitely not there, but I hope women who gain power in the coming years will consider letting their wrinkles show. It will set a great precedent for the next generation.
Tell your own story. Too many women think their story is not worth telling. I come across this every day in my professional life. I meet so many smart, interesting women who really are thought leaders but who, for whatever reason, don’t want to put their own story out there. Even Clinton dealt with this. She thought that because she came from a comfortable home and lived a financially easy life she had little in her own story she could share to show her empathy for people who were struggling. But of course that’s ridiculous. Clinton has struggled and fought — just in a more elevated arena. Her book, What Happened, felt like a giant sigh of relief from a woman finally letting go and speaking the truth to her story.
Women need to be out there telling their stories. That’s how they’ll inspire the next generation of female leaders. It’s how they’ll put their mark on history, and it’s how they’ll gain influence to take on powerful positions in the months, years and decades ahead.
I hope everyone can take inspiration from Palmieri’s words because the truth is a world where men and women are equally represented in leadership positions is a better world for everyone. I touched on this when I wrote about Crash the Glass, an initiative to recognize the young female entrepreneurs who are crashing the glass ceiling not from below, but from above by stepping off of the corporate ladder and starting their own businesses. As these women amass more money, power and influence, they’ll create a ripple effect in the rest of society and fundamentally change leadership ideas we take for granted right now. It’s going to be a very exciting change.