Hillary Clinton: the stranger we’ve known for 25 years
There are many things in this hyper-partisan time that contribute to the extreme opinions we Americans have for Hillary Clinton. Supporters revel in her long life of public service and the glaring fact that nearly 100 years after women got the vote, a woman has finally earned the place at the top of a major party’s presidential ticket. Clinton has worked on the national stage in many roles elected and not, paid and volunteer for the last 25 years, but detractors still deride her (some quite vehemently) for her unlikeablity and lack of transparency and trustworthiness. I’ve not heard anyone assert that Hillary Clinton lacks intelligence or a strong work ethic, but lots of people still claim to not know her—or more pointedly, to not like her. She seems to be a stranger—a stranger we have known for 25 years.
The challenge facing Clinton—in Type terms—is faced by every introverted leader. What drives her are mental functions we (the outer world) do not see, and what results (when framed positively) is an intensity and understatement (perhaps even an intriguing air of mystery). When framed negatively, however—which an extraverted world often does—these qualities look sneaky, confusing, secretive and even duplicitous.
Hillary Clinton once publically disclosed her Type preferences to be INTJ, and while instructive on some levels, there is a more specific and enlightening path I would like to follow. I’m trying to avoid the label of a four-letter Type to consider the mental functions and behaviors we have more consistently seen and have come to associate with Secretary Clinton over her now 25 years on the national and global stage. Let’s take a look at some of Hillary Clinton’s likely drivers to better understand this stranger we’ve known for years.
Introverted Thinking: The cold-hearted fixer
Introverted Thinking is the judging function that brings clarity, accuracy and precision to an internal process of objective, non-personal decision making. Hillary Clinton seems often engaged with introverted Thinking.
As First Lady, Clinton was put in charge of crafting health care reform legislation, and she did on the national stage in the early 1990s what she would do so many times in the years that have followed. She went on a listening tour—discussing, interviewing, and observing different needs and points of view regarding the topic and then internally crafting a solution. The process of retreating within herself to calculate the best, most logical outcome seems a familiar space for Clinton. Since 1993, we have seen her do it as First Lady, as a US Senator, as the Secretary of State, and twice as a candidate for the Presidency.
Introverted Thinking is calculating, objective, impersonal and exacting—it strives for accuracy, not inclusion; logic, not harmony. “He’s smart, but I don’t like him—don’t really trust or connect to him.” Every introverted Thinker knows that refrain well. Many introverted Thinkers have had to pay the price of unpopularity and social disconnection wearing the labels of “mean” and “cold,” believing that answering a pending question well, fixing the problem and being right—in the end—is worth being personally disliked or misunderstood.
Introverted iNtuition: The sneaky visionary
Introverted iNtuition is the perceiving function that brings vision, imagination and insight—flashes of future that illuminate potential paths forward. Clinton clearly engages introverted iNtuition.
Hillary Rodham Clinton has long been a feminist, a Goldwater Republican turned student activist with a vision of the changes she believed would pull our society forward. Social justice, the empowerment of women, inclusion of the disabled, the expansion of and access to education and healthcare—to some an unwanted agenda, but Clinton’s internal engine has consistently pulled her in this future-focused, progressive direction.
Introverted iNtuition is visionary, futuristic and imaginative, but because this function is internalized, the world rarely hears this vision or sees its source, so introverted iNtuition can end up looking mysterious (and even sneaky), and because inner flashes leap over the here-and-now to an image of the city on the hill, this vision can seem non-sequential and overly complex. Every introverted iNtuitive knows well the frustration of having been a student who knew the correct answer or the next step—picturing it clearly in his mind—but having trouble (and not seeing the point) of then tracing steps for the teacher and showing “how you got there.”
The price of introverted iNtuition (Ni) and the vision it brings is a mysterious, unknowable (and at times seemingly duplicitous) quality.
Introverted Sensing: the cautious nit-picker
Introverted Sensing is the perceiving function that brings archived facts, specifics, and details to discussion, deliberation and problem-solving. Clinton clearly has easy access to introverted Sensing.
Whether explaining and defending complex legislation, negotiating treaties, talking to potential voters on the stump or testifying (for over 12 hours at a stretch) to Congress, the last 20 years have shown Hillary Clinton to have a firm grasp of facts and details—the critical minutia that make up legislation, conversation, testimony and our shared record of the past. While having a firm grip on facts—who said what to whom, when and where, is an impressive skill, and every introverted Sensor knows that it brings with it labels of “boring, overly-cautious, wonky, and nit-picking.” There is an often-held view of introverted Sensing (Si) as lacking zip and excitement, being a rather blood-less bean-counter, and Hillary Clinton has certainly shouldered these insults, especially when compared to her more gregarious and big-thinking (and talking) husband, former President, Bill Clinton.
The history-steeped, detail-focus of introverted Sensing is at odds with the future-focused vision of introverted iNtuition. While both functions can and do contribute to Hillary Clinton’s approach to her work – historical and cautious while also driven by future and vision – the combination to many onlookers is a behavioral contradiction that comes across as inconsistent and even insincere.
These insights are about Hillary Clinton, but the same could be said of Richard Nixon and Al Gore (to name just a couple). These are two political leaders from our recent past who shared connections with the same mental functions and also shouldered claims of opaqueness and unlikeablity. In the 2000 presidential race (George W. Bush versus Al Gore), many polls suggested voters felt Al Gore was smarter and more qualified, but Bush was the candidate they felt they knew and liked more.
With this essay, I’m interested in personality and behavior—not politics. Introverted leaders (those of us who feel a more natural pull to the introverted functions) often struggle to connect in an energized, authentic and consistent way to the people, teams and systems we are leading. This is not simply a Clinton issue; it is a Type issue of which Hillary is the most recent example.
While she communicates fine, and these days, often, Hillary Clinton’s primary gifts and drivers are not on public display. They never have been. Like all introverted leaders, the functions that she most often uses and in which she places the most trust are those that keep her within herself. Introverted Thinking, introverted Sensing and introverted iNtution are functions that make Clinton particularly suited for the hands-on work of legislative problem solving and the work-a-day grind of governance. It just so happens these same functions will continue to make her seem distant, opaque and, to many, unlikeable.
At the heart of Type theory are the functions—the 8 fundamental forms of mental activity (Sensing, iNtuition, Thinking and Feeling—each with an extraverted and introverted manifestation). We each have access to all eight mental functions, but to varying degrees.
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