I’ve just returned to Southern California following my second session of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program. (Here’s my recap of Session 1 in case you missed it.) The Clinton Foundation hosted this session in Little Rock, Arkansas. The long weekend afforded incredible access to President Clinton and members of his administration – including former Cabinet members Alexis Hermon (former Secretary of Labor) and Rodney Slater (former Secretary of Transportation); and White House staffers Bruce Reed (Chief Domestic Policy Advisor) and Gene Sperling (Director of the National Economic Council).

The focus of leadership lessons during the session centered on communicating vision. How does a leader effectively cast vision – inspiring and motivating a team while staying grounded in the difficult realities the team faces in the here and now? Workshops included a panel discussion with President Clinton’s speechwriters and Cabinet on how to write a powerful, effective State of the Union. I gained some really practical tools and lessons from the Clinton team that I hope to utilize to grow as a leader and more effectively help Nuru accomplish the audacious vision we have set out to realize.

Here are my top takeaways from Session 2:

  1. Values first. Leading effectively requires communicating through the prism of your own values.
  2. Communicate vision along with expectations. Ensure that the team understands that there will be battles that we lose along the way – it’s not all roses. As a leader, you need to communicate that you know the way forward will not be easy and that it is fraught with many challenges – anticipated and unanticipated. We will experience tough losses, but we will win the war. The key is that we can’t give up when we get knocked down or lose a battle.
  3. Always be looking down the road. Leaders must always keep their eyes up and looking ahead – anticipating challenges and shaping the playing field to ensure the success of the team when they arrive.
  4. Stick to your guns, but adjust to react to crises real-time. As a leader, when challenges come, you can’t give up the dream, but you also can’t shy away from or ignore challenges. There will be times when you have to change the course and change the plan you have set for the team. Do your best to deliver on original expectations and stick to the plan when you can, but be willing to change the plan (sometimes drastically) and react to crises in real time in order to accomplish the greater vision.
  5. Be transparent and authentic. Both are critically important in messaging.
  6. Genuinely empathize. When communicating vision, anticipate rejections and resistance so you can genuinely empathize – not just so you can articulate how you will solve the problem. The capacity to anticipate an impulse and anticipate with empathy brings others closer to the leader. Empathy is sometimes listening to resistance without an immediate solution, dismissal, or response.
  7. Speak plainly. In a crisis or uncertainty, people don’t want a speech. They want to understand, and they want you to talk plainly. In times of crisis, choose explanation over eloquence.
  8. Take risks. Leaders must be willing to step out into the unknown to make a big change.
  9. Change is emotional. All change has an emotional component. The difference between change and progress is how you communicate it.
  10. Keep re-enrolling people in your vision. The team is busy doing the work to make the vision possible, so sometimes it’s easy to forget the why. It’s your job to remind them and keep the vision ever in front of the team – don’t take that for granted.

Stay tuned for key takeaways from Session 3 at the Bush Center in Dallas at the end of April!