Power: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Everything you always wanted to know about the ultimate double-edged sword

Why Hillary Clinton Needs A Primer On Power

The First, Of Many, Open Letters To The Former First Lady On Appearing Powerful

Dear Mrs. Clinton:

This is the first of several “open letters” I intend to send you between now and the Democrat Party Primaries. Since you lost your party’s nomination to Mr. Obama back in 2008 it’s common knowledge that you’ve longed for the time when you could execute a plan to once again call the White House your home. But, as they say, “Just because you have a plan, doesn’t mean it’s a good one.” By focusing on how you fail to understand uses and abuses of power, I, Mrs. Clinton, will help you forge a surefire plan to get back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as the principal resident, not the partner [First Lady] of, or assistant [Secretary of State] to, the occupant who matters most.

Let me start my analysis of your failure to understand how power works  —forcing you to settle for second-tier status since way back when you lived in Arkansas— by looking at why you’ve gone no farther in your career than being adjacent to the throne. [In all candor, “second-tier” for you is a pipe dream for 99.9% of the world’s population; you’ve compiled an awe-inspiring resume. The thing is, the crowning glory to your career has evaded you when it shouldn’t have; a fact attributable to a failure to actualize your full power potential. The explanation? Most people assume that whatever political success you have had is a function of the guys who won the right to actually sit on the throne: Bill and President Obama. Unless you look at Hillary Rodham long before she changed her name to Hillary Clinton, it seems impossible to find an instance of you scoring a knockout without the facilitative influence of a man.

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Here’s an example of what I mean: When it was revealed to you that your husband was messing-with-Monica the consensus opinion was almost unanimously in favor of you dumping him. With Jennifer Flowers likely sticking in your craw and Bill’s trysts with scores of other bimbos reminding you of his narcissistic disregard for your feelings, bidding him adieu was the sanest thing you could have done. That is, unless you established a quid pro quo, which is precisely what folks said you did. You’d put up a façade of love-and-loyalty in exchange for Bill’s moving heaven and earth –not to mention your legal residence— to New York and a senate campaign designed to catapult you into position to grab the Presidency.

Why was this bartering so damaging to perceptions of you as possessing personal power? Because while the First Lady has a form of power, it’s really not the kind of power Americans respect. Prince George of England, not yet one month old, has the kind of power you had as First Lady: Ascribed power. Someone else gives it to you (in George’s case, it comes down the DNA line from Queen Elizabeth) and is yours independent and irrespective of what you do. That sort of power sells in London and among readers of People Magazine here in the USA, but only among the people who love Honey Boo-Boo and the ZZ Top look-alikes from Duck Dynasty. Adulation from that cohort of the population won’t get you where you want to go; you need to understand why and address it.

The “why” is a simple yet profound psychological law called The Discounting Principle, one of many from the school of Attribution Theory that explains how we come to form perceptions about ourselves and others. Attribution theory demonstrates why what you see isn’t necessarily what you get when it comes to ascribing traits to people.

The Discounting Principle works as follows: If a person’s goal oriented behavior succeeds as a result of facilitative forces –being married to the Commander in Chief as a case in point— judgments of how influential his or her power and abilities were in causing the outcome are reduced. Example: If, while you were First Lady the Prime Minister of Israel visited the USA and gave you their Medal of Freedom, folks would assume that it was a way of currying favor with your husband. Nice thing to have “won,” but not too informative about your humanitarian efforts. If, however, the Prime Minister came to L.A. and gave me the same honor, that would be meaningful. I’m no longer part of the Harvard Medical School adjunct faculty and I have no influential friends: Q.E.D., something I did must have been why the Israelis honored me.

The Discounting Principle is holding you back like a ball-and-chain would prevent Usain Bolt from winning races. Until your work does not appear to be “Hillary’s pay-offs for not dumping Bill” or, “A thank-you from Barak for supporting his candidacy after whipping you in the primaries,” you will never be seen as the woman many say you are— A super-powerful female poised to assume the Presidency.

Starting today, here’s what you must do:

• Recall how you insisted on inserting “Rodham” in your public name when you left the White House and ran for the US Senate? Do the same sort of edit once again, but this time deleting “Mrs.” and “Former First Lady.” Never let people refer to you using those terms; treat the terms like profanities because, in terms of attributions of power, they do curse you.

• Do something –anything— that cannot be seen as a Democrat Party-assisted achievement. The other day you gave a speech lamenting the plight of Hispanic voters. Everyone saw it as a shot at a potential run by Marco Rubio for the job you crave and, hence, discounted its authenticity. But if you moved to Mexico City, never once sought the support of Carlos Slim, H., and ran a program that helped destroy the Mexican drug cartels, that would not only endear you to Latino voters, but would show the world you have personal power that yields results without facilitation.

I know you get my point. Now, get to work removing the “Comeback Kid” influence and doing something that cannot be attributed to anything other than Hillary Power.

 

After 30 years on the faculty of Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry, Dr. Berglas moved to Los Angeles to focus on writing, consulting, executive coaching.

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