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Clinton's style reflects the times.

Pres. Clinton is a product of his constituency. "Ten years ago, no one would have listened to Bill Clinton. But in 1993, he's saying and doing things that people want in a leader," indicates Chester A. Schriesheim, a University of Miami management professor who specializes in leadership skills. He maintains that the Clinton profile can tell us as much about the country as about the president we elected.

Schriesheim believes that most leaders tend to mirror the perceptions of their followers. Rather than implementing their ideas and effecting change, leaders merely reflect their constituency's prevalent moods and opinions. Ronald Reagan, for example, was a response to a nation that wanted to feel good about itself again following the trauma of Watergate, the Vietnam War, and a gripping recession. "In the early 1980s, people wanted a time-out; they wanted a break; and they wanted to see their country as a world leader. And Reagan was a paternal, forceful figure who said the things they wanted to hear and governed with a style that was comfortable for a lot of people."

Clinton is the natural convergence of a man, a message, and a mission, Schriescheim suggests. Although it generally is accepted that his election was more of a plea for change--any change--than a mandate to enact his policies, some political observers believe that the implementation of the Clinton style, more than anything, is the mandate delivered by voters. Americans who worry about the deficit, health care crisis, and environment, and who suddenly view their country as less competitive, want a more activist president willing to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty while addressing these problems.

Clinton is all of that. His policy beliefs aside, few people fault him for lack of energy, ingenuity, or the enthusiasm he generates among his staff. Some observers say his near obsession with facts, figures, and details may have touched a nerve in voters who had become fed up with negative campaigning and "character issues," and who had grown weary of the laisserzfaire politics of the Reagan/Bush era,

By his own admission, Clinton governs through persuasion, which only can come through dialogue. His mastery of a subject, therefore, is necessary to convince others of his views and policies. "People engaged by their leaders in a conversation feel better about the outcome, even if they would prefer a different one, simply because they are given a chance to have their say," Clinton believes.

The bottom line, says Schriesheim, is twofold: whether Clinton can get his programs passed by Congress and, once approved, will they work? "He might be doing the things people want and saying the things they want to hear, but if he doesn't deliver, the people will get impatient. He's got to make it work." In fact, some experts believe that voters will hold Clinton to a higher standard than other recent U.S. presidents. As the public's perceptions of leadership values have altered, so have the expectations.

Although the Clinton leadership style is an intriguing contrast to those of Reagan and Bush, Schriesheim is quick to point out that, like all styles, ideas of good leadership fluctuate with the moods and attitudes of the public. Just as Americans' leadership expectations were different in the 1980s from what they are in the 1990s, so too will they be different in the year 2000. "Just like Reagan was, Clinton happens to be at the right place at the right time. But that's not going to be true forever. Right now, he has the message and the leadership style that people are responding to. But a few years from now, when people change and perceptions change, the leaders we want may be entirely different."
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:620
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