A big part of Bill Clinton’s magic is his ability to build relationships. Time and time again we’ve heard about his amazing way of making anyone he’s with feel like they are the most important person in the room. Relationships are the heart of BRAVE leadership. If you can’t connect with people, you can’t lead them. This is why it’s so important for anyone going through any sort of executive onboarding to think “relationships first”. This is why it’s so stunning that Hillary Clinton has not yet learned this lesson.

Martha Pease lays out the current situation well in her article on Hillary Clinton’s disappointing book rollout. In that article she quotes Harvard professor Amy Cuddy’s suggestion that “leaders influence and persuade best when they connect to people first with warmth, followed with competency… (while Hillary Clinton) leads with competency and…displays little apparent warmth.”

Our own learning is that this is almost always the wrong approach for leaders in any situation and disastrous for leaders onboarding into new roles (or campaigning for those roles).



The components of BRAVE leadership are behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and the environment. The best leaders think through their environment (where to play), values (what matters and why) and attitude (how to win) to set up critical moments of relating to others (how to connect) on the way to focusing everyone on the most important behaviors (what impact). No one is going to follow anyone they can’t relate to.


Relationships First

The most effective executive onboarding includes:

1)    Getting a head start

2)    Managing the message

3)    Building the team

The recurring mantra through all three of these is “relationships first”.

Before the start you can’t ever be right. You haven’t earned the right to be right. All you have is the right to start building relationships. Hillary’s off on a book tour, a “talking tour”. Wrong approach. As PrimeGenesis partner Joe Durrett pointed out to me, before the start of her first Senate campaign, she went off on a “listening tour”. Hello Hillary, if you’re not going to learn from your husband’s successes, how about learning from your own. Hey everyone else, build relationships first.

From before the start, through day one, through your first 100-days in a new role, through forever, everything communicates. You must get clear on your message. If your message is about you and your accomplishments, your hopes and dreams, that message is going to resonate extremely well – with you. If you want your message to resonate with anyone else, it needs to be about their hopes and dreams.

Who won the 2012 presidential election in the U.S.? Barak Obama of course. And who else? His team. There’s no way this guy wins without Michelle and Joe and his campaign staff and all the volunteers and….and….and… The only thing any executive can do all by himself or herself is fail. If you want to succeed, you must build the team. Hillary’s not doing that with her book tour. You won’t do it if you make it all about you. Make it about the team and its impact.


Implications for you

Relationships first. (If this idea surprises you, go back to the beginning and read this article again).

  1. Get a head start before the start – focusing on building relationships
  2. Manage your message – to build relationships
  3. Build the team – by building relationships


Click here for an overall executive summary of the New Leader’s Playbook articles on Forbes and links to each of the individual articles organized by category.