Lesson for all in Clinton's rise to Oval Office
THE most impressive feature of Mr Bill Clinton's ascendance to the presidency is how, in his early years, he reinvented himself to save his political career.
Back in 1978, during his first two-year term as Governor of Arkansas, Mr Clinton was an arrogant, super-liberal, I-know-everything 32-year-old. Then he was booted out of office.
For the next two years he listened to people and thought about what went wrong. As a result, he reshaped himself into a much more sympathetic, less arrogant, more moderate, more compromising type of politician. You can praise or criticise this sort of reinvention, but you cannot argue with its effectiveness.
I wonder how many of us have the discipline or insight to reinvent ourselves when our careers confront a similar crisis.
If you are an executive who has stalled in middle-management because your personality rubs people the wrong way, can you reinvent yourself into a more likable person? If you are a lawyer bored with the law, can you make the mental leap required to become an entrepreneur? If you are a secretary yearning to be an executive, can you reposition yourself so your bosses grant your wish? Almost every great leap forward requires some form of self-examination and reinvention in which we identify our strengths, make sacrifices, seize opportunities and announce the change to the world.
On paper my career reads like a series of reinventions - from lawyer to sports agent to salesman to manager. But in my mind, these are merely skills I learned along the way to being an entrepreneur.
My real reinvention involved personality, not occupation. It started with a crisis in the mid-1960s - when I realised my hurry-up mentality was unappealing to many golfers who should have been our clients.
I was impatient with prospects who didn't see what was obvious to me (that we were the best) and mad when they went with someone else.
In reinventing myself, I learned patience. I realised that, if you wait, things will come around to you. It's an interesting process to watch. We have had clients who have left us and come back. We have had others who spoke badly about us and then becameclients. In the early years, this enraged me. Now I let the process unfold with patience and resignation.
Every reinvention begins with a crisis. If reality has slapped you in the face, perhaps it is time to change.
The key to reinvention is to identify strengths and weaknesses, and then have the wisdom to keep the former and toss away the latter.
For most of my adult life I've considered myself a lawyer even though I have not practised law in three decades. I still write down ''lawyer'' under ''occupation'' on airport immigration forms. I cannot overestimate the effect of my legal training. It permeates how I communicate, how I phrase a letter or confirm a commitment so the other side knows exactly what we've agreed to. It permeates how I sell and deal with people. While many salespeople deal in broad strokes, I'm precise.
That meticulous attention to details is my strength. It's the strongest residue of my legal training. I wasn't interested in dealing with briefs and juries and contracts. They were my weaknesses, so I let them go.
When people fail to reinvent themselves, I suspect one reason is that they cling to their weakness and forget their strength. If you're an accountant who's good with numbers, don't deny that strength simply because you don't want to be an accountant anymore. Let your skill with numbers give you an edge over everyone else.
In reinventing yourself, be prepared to sacrifice or compromise.
I remember visiting a ski resort where we were producing one of our first ski races for television.
When I went looking for the head of our television division, who was in charge of the event, I was told he was up on the side of the mountain working out camera angles with the crew.
Since he was our top executive at the site, that wasn't the best use of his time. He should have been at the bottom of the mountain mingling with network executives and ski officials.
But he loved the creative give-and-take of producing a programme. Giving it up for more important responsibilities was hard for him to do.
Reinvention comes with a price. Inevitably you have to give up something you love.
I'm always surprised by people who feel trapped in their job, particularly if they're good at what they do, no matter how narrow that skill may be. They actually have an advantage.
I think it's easier to start out with a narrow expertise and reinvent yourself into something broader than to start out as a broad generalist and be respected as a specialist.
I've seen people in our company with narrow niches in accounting or finance develop people skills that let them break into our senior executive ranks.
The fact they have a background in taxes or finance, coupled with their new-found skills, makes them better in some ways than the generalists. It also takes some of the risk out of reinvention. If everything goes wrong, they can always fall back on theirfinancial expertise.
With reinvention comes the choice: Do you do it quietly or should you announce it to the world? I think you should let people know.
When I was transforming myself from a golfer's agent into a manager running a growing business, there came a point when I had to tell clients our relationship was changing.
By all means, tell the world when you reinvent yourself. If you don't let people know, it may take years before they reinvent their impression of you.