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At end of tenure as secretary of labor, Hilda Solis reflects on leadership

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After four years in President Obama’s Cabinet, Hilda Solis resigned last week as secretary of labor. Near the end of her tenure, she sat down to tape a video for On Leadership, in which I asked her to share a personal experience that shaped her character and her approach to leadership.

Her story, as you can watch, was of a high-school guidance counselor who told her she “wasn’t college material” and of the deeper drive that incident inspired in her to prove such doubts wrong.

Solis, the daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan parents, would go on to college—as well as to serve as a U.S. representative from California for eight years before leading the Department of Labor. Now, following her resignation, she is contemplating running for a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors seat that would bring her back into local politics, she confirmed to the Los Angeles Times.

Brad Plumer of Wonkblog took a look at Solis’s record at the Labor Department before she departed. He notes that her leadership was particularly strong on protecting low-wage, vulnerable employees (the department “recovered some $280 million in pay for 300,000 workers, a new record”), but that she fared less well on pushing through new workplace-related regulations.

Plumer interviewed Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian, to get his view on Solis’s leadership of the department. “[O]ne mark of an effective labor secretary is his or her ability to use the bully pulpit to make labor and workplace issues more visible,” Lichtenstein said, adding that he’s not quite sure she succeeded in that respect.

Solis was the first Latina to serve in a presidential Cabinet. She led the Labor Department during a period of high unemployment and complex worker issues catalyzed by the recession.

“Not everyone may understand or know what you have to offer,” she told The Post in December, “but keep your head up high, respect yourself always and respect others—and that will come back to you.”

Watch her video for On Leadership’s “Micro Management Stories” series here:

Hilda Solis on laboring toward leadership

Lillian Cunningham: @lily_cunningham

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