When Betsy Myers worked in the White House, she was always amazed by how some people, like Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin commanded so much admiration when they walked down the halls.
"It was like people practically bowed down with respect," she told a full house at Thursday on tour to promote her first book, Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You.
“What is that particular quality certain people have that causes those around them to fully engage and feel connected?” she asked.
After years in Washington, working for Bill Clinton as an advisor on women's issues and then as Chief Operating Officer for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, her conclusions weren't what so many management books taught.
It wasn't that they were tougher sharks or better cuthroats. Just the opposite: they were people who loved their jobs and cared about the people around them. They were people she described in a perfect California way, as "freaking out with joy."
For example, she talked about Southwest Airlines, which hires employees to do nothing but track important events in the lives of the other 30,000 employees. When one of the wives of an employee came down with cancer, the others raised $10,000 to send the couple on her dream vacation to Italy.
The company values its people she said, so much that its corporate newsletter is called the LUV letter. As a result, it's been the most successful airline in the country, even turning a significant profit during the downturn.
The CEO's who lead best are those who know the eye colors of their assistants, who know the people who work for them, who connect with them and make working a joyful experience, she said.
“No matter how good your work is, if you don’t build good relationships with your colleagues, it may not have the impact and support it could,” she said.
Studies show that one in two people hate their jobs, she added. The best leaders were those who loved their jobs and helped their workers find a way to love theirs.
Myers, a Southern Californian now living in Boston, used her young daughter, Madison, as a model for the joy leaders should have. After preschool one day, the child told her mother she didn't want to be overscheduled, like her friends were. She wanted to come home after school, having used up her energy getting through preschool.
Then later, she started taking dance lessons and loved it. When her mother asked how she felt, she told her, "I'm freaking out with joy." That, said Myers, can work as a business model.
It also helps people get the kind of focus they need to be successful. When she ran Obama's campaign, the candidate told the people near him that his becoming president was a long shot. They decided, however, to focus on Iowa, the first step, and not look beyond it.
They campaigned in all 99 counties in the state, building an organization that was previously unseen in the early primary state. All they thought about was Iowa, knowing that if they didn't win or place second there, it was over.
With their focus, they won, and Myers now asks business leaders to define their "Iowa," their challenge that needs complete focus to get their projects off the ground.
She told the audience she thinks that in the coming election President Obama could probably recover the public's good will, which polls show is tanking now.
"He's great in the fourth quarter," she said.
Obama, she said, is more of an introvert than was Bill Clinton. But he is true to himself and his vision. Unlike John McCain, she said, who was a different person in his concession speech than in the campaign, Obama was the same even-tempered person, regardless of what was thrown at him.
However, she said that she's never seen a political climate like today's, with its complete lack of respect for the presidency and the unwillingness of both sides to work together, as they have in the past. She said the other side has rebuked the president, even when he made the concessions they wanted.
"I'm not sure anyone could do well in the job today," she said.
--Andrew Forgy contributed to this report--