What People Teach Us: Bill Clinton — What’s Going On Behind The Curtain?

What can seemingly be more powerful than someone’s actions?


With actions, the detail and results are known and, most often, witnessed.

With perception, the imagination of each person curious enough to think about an issue can roam wild and come up with its own interpretation of events. There is no limit to the imagination so, therefore, there’s no limit, really, to how a situation can be perceived from the outside.

“…the perception of the public can outweigh, weigh down, and even negate the true nature of one’s intentions.”

Take, for instance, this week’s impromptu meeting between former President Bill Clinton and current United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch on an airport tarmac in Phoenix, Arizona.  Her plane had just landed while his was preparing to take off so Bill, being the social butterfly, thought it’d be a great idea to go and visit the Attorney General on her plane.  After their meeting, Lynch said they had exchanged pleasantries, including stories and updates on families and the like.

But there’s just one problem: The Department of Justice, which Lynch heads, is currently involved in an investigation with the FBI into Bill’s wife, former Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee, Hillary Clinton, and her usage of a private email server for official State Department business.

Almost immediately after the Clinton-Lynch airport stop-and-chat, bipartisan as well as public disapproval was made known about this private meeting between the Attorney General and the former President, regardless of the fact that it was nothing planned in advanced. Afterwards, Attorney Lynch stated that no mention was made, or discussion had, about the official investigation her agency was conducting in the Clinton case.

But who’s really to know?

Political views aside and regardless of whether one supports the Clintons or not, this is a lesson of understanding that no matter what one’s intentions are, the perception of the public can outweigh, weigh down, and even negate the true nature of those intentions.

“It’s about being smart enough to see the end result you want to reach and understanding the power of people’s attitudes and perceptions…”

One can say they were doing no wrong and that their intentions were in the “right” and that that should be enough, but one should know which battles to pick and choose when it comes to perception.

One instance of not thinking through the implications can take an inordinate and exponential amount of time to correct, if any recovery can be made at all.

And this isn’t a matter of losing integrity: “I have to stop being who I am? I can’t do that.” It’s about being smart enough to see the end result you want to reach and understanding the power of people’s attitudes and perceptions to either help and elevate or sour and dismantle your case (absolutely no pun intended).

“We need to understand what other people see…not just for their own sake now, but for our own sake later.”

This happens in various levels of government and regulation all the time–officials refusing to recuse themselves from cases where there is the perception of a conflict-of-interest.  Even if there isn’t but the majority of the stakeholders believe there is, for the sake of the true success, understanding, and viability of whatever the case and subsequent decision might be, consider greatly what that public attitude is and proceed with caution. Or else, your desired result might be tainted with doubt and distrust.

This doesn’t only play out at the high levels of leadership. It can happen in any situation.

Let them understand the true you, don’t make them have to guess at the illusion.

Be as forthcoming as you can on the stage and don’t hide behind the curtain.

It’s not so much that you need to proactively bolster your image as much as making sure you’re not inadvertently tarnishing it.

We need to understand what other people see.

It’s not just for their sake now, but for our own sake later.

So…What About You?

  • Have you witnessed such an instance where the perception tainted a situation?
  • Have you yourself been caught in such a situation?
  • What would you have done differently?


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