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Show Me A Good Loser and I'll Show You A Loser

June 3, 2008
How many times have you heard it?   "Never, never, never give in."   "It’s Not Over Till It’s Over."  "Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser."   From Winston Churchill  to baseball’s Yogi Berra and football’s Vince Lombardi the  mantra of leaders and champions has always been about perseverance and never quitting.  

So why is it, then, that Senator Hillary Clinton has been maligned for weeks for not conceding the democratic nomination to Senator Barack Obama?  Why is it that male leaders are praised for hanging tough until the bitter end, yet the first woman to be a serious contender to break the 219-year, male winning streak for the White House is under heavy pressure to quit “for the good of the party,” while there is still time on the clock?

The latest pressure came this morning when the Associated Press reported that Clinton had agreed she would concede tonight, after the results are in from the final two primaries, in Montana and South Dakota.   Clinton’s campaign set the record straight within an hour, stating that the AP story was wrong; she would not be conceding at the end of the evening.  How dare she?

I’m from Detroit, where our Detroit Red Wing hockey team is fighting down to the wire in the finals for the Stanley Cup Championship.  Last night, the Red Wings were :34 seconds away from winning the championship.   If only the Pittsburgh Penguins had done what was best for hockey and conceded.  After all, the Red Wings had a one goal lead, they were playing on home ice, and the hometown crowd was screaming for their coronation.  But the Penguins refused to concede or quit.  In the tradition of winners, they fought on, tieing the game with just seconds on the clock.  They then had the audacity to continue to fight, beating the Red Wings in triple overtime and forcing the Stanley Cup Championship to a sixth game.   Clearly, they were thinking only of themselves and those championship rings and bonuses.

Senator Clinton and Senator Obama are in a neck and neck race.  She won last week’s  Puerto Rico primary by a margin of 68% to Obama’s 32%.  She has also won eight of the last 14 primaries.  According to estimates by RealClearPolitics.com, the two candidates have split the popular vote 40% to 40.1%.  There is hardly a clear "people's choice."  

Sports, politics, business and war, which have shaped our cultural images of leaders and champions for several centuries, celebrate examples of underdogs fighting on against all odds to claim victory.   Yet in the leadership laboratory unfolding before us, when a woman leader has demonstrated the tenacity and strength to fight to the finish, refusing to give up while there is  still time on the clock, she is not celebrated, she is mocked as selfish and overly ambitious.

Regardless of your politics, if you are honest, it is hard to ignore what 71 million working women in America  have in common with Senator Clinton: when you change the gender of the leader, the rules change instantly -- even today.

I am currently writing a book on leadership (BREAKOUT: The Women’s Field Guide to Leading), targeted for publication in the fall of 2009.  We now have nearly four decades of new wisdom on leadership, through the experience of women.  I've interviewed over 100 compelling women leaders of all ages for the book, and have identified 12 essentials for leadership success that cross the generations.   My goal for the book is to challenge and teach women how to make the leap from achieving to leading. Women are 51% of the population and cast 54% of the votes in the last presidential election.  Yet our share of influence at the top – in elected office, in corporate suites, at nearly every decision-making table – is still that of a minority voice.

It is long past time for women to lead.   Long past time for women to support other women leaders.  If Barack Obama ultimately prevails and becomes the democratic presidential nominee, it is my hope that women voters will stand up and insist that he choose one of the many well-qualified women, beginning with Senator Clinton, as his running mate.  I’m a believer that comedienne Roseann Barr had it right when she said:  “The thing women have yet to learn is:  Nobody gives you power, you just take it.”

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