Of all the tributes to George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton’s retelling of the note he received upon his arrival to the Oval Office hit me the hardest. See the full note in The Washington Post here. This is the quote that caught me: “Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”
Bush had just gotten trounced in the election when he wrote that note. The loss added him to the “one-term” club of prior Presidents. He was not in his finest hour. But, the job wasn’t about personal achievement, it was about serving the country. It wasn’t his success, it was our success. He and Clinton were ultimately part of the same team. Being president was just a point on a continuum, and somebody else was always going to be next, so the only option in his mind was to “root hard.” If we don’t have a tribe to cheer on, what do we really have?
Whether it’s with coworkers, clients, spouses, kids, friends, etc. – letting people know that we are rooting for them is part of what binds us together. There are different ways to validate success, but validation in a social context is extremely powerful. When we feel like we belong, when we acknowledge that people like us do things like this, great things can happen.
Bush crossed a party line to deliver that note and acknowledge something bigger than himself. It costs nothing to let someone know that we’re in their corner. Think of what it means for a client, coworker, or anyone else. Cheer people on – root for them, root hard, and make sure they know we’re behind them. Shared experiences, both the good and the bad, matter most.
R.I.P President Bush, and thank you for the reminder.