How Nancy Pelosi Aced the 4 P’s of Political Leadership: Power, Presence, Platform, and Perseverance

Issue 211 — November 21, 2022

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi gave the best speech of her political life on November 17, when after the 2022 midterm elections, she announced she would remain in Congress but would not run for Minority Leader again in January when the new Congress convenes.

Her words and her demeanor were a summation of her style of leadership.

Pelosi melds four essential elements of leadership: her effective deployment of power; her personal presence, charisma, and those unmeasurable defining personal characteristics that draw people to a leader, or not; her platform of legislation passed during her leadership; and the perseverance to keep her eyes steeled on her desired result while using flexibility and negotiating skills to get the best possible outcome.

Deployment of Power

Nancy Pelosi grew up observing her father’s use of political power as mayor of Baltimore and later as a member of Congress. Using power to get things done is part of her DNA. But she had to do it authentically, using symbols of power that had meaning to her as a woman and also signaled that she understood social expectations.

I covered her first swearing in as Speaker in 2007 for the Women’s Media Center. What I wrote about the first female Speaker of the House then seems prescient for today. She hosted a tea party, always symbolic of feminist organizing, while asserting (as she brandished the large gavel surrounded by her grandchildren) that she had broken the very hard marble ceiling.

Nancy Pelosi is sworn in as Speaker of the House in 2009, surrounded by her grandchildren and other children of members of Congress. Photo — NPR.

She took the gavel for the second time in 2009, with even more children surrounding her and a growing number of women in Congress, and the third time in 2019 when the Democrats retook Congress. In between, she served as House Minority Leader. Even when she didn’t hold the Speaker’s gavel, she was masterful at wielding the power she had as leader of her party in Congress to beard then-President Donald Trump in his den more effectively than many of her male colleagues who fell into their natural more combative roles.

The power of a woman’s voice is not to be underestimated. But it’s only powerful if it’s used. Nancy Pelosi knew how to use hers. And when not to.


Like so many women of her generation, especially those who were first to hold powerful leadership roles, Speaker Pelosi displays a measured affect even under the most challenging situations. Despite being perpetually in one political cauldron or another, you never see her sweat. She wears the elegant mask of a woman who learned long ago how to avoid being disregarded as too emotional, too angry, or even the slightest bit out of control.

Back when I spent a lot of time pounding the marble floors of Congress, I was in awe seeing her do her work in her Jimmy Choo heels and never revealing whether her feet hurt. Somehow it seemed a metaphor for the double edged sword of gender bias that she had to overcome.

San Francisco affiliate CEO Dian Harrison and I presenting Planned Parenthood’s Responsible Choices award to Representative Nancy Pelosi.

Her normally calm demeanor made it all the more delicious when she clapped back smartly at an obnoxious reporter with what became my new favorite hashtag at the time: #dontmesswithme. And her calm “mother-of-five” handling of the January 6 insurrection in which domestic terrorists were audibly on the hunt for her will go down in history as the epitome of a leader taking a colossal level of responsibility for the safety of others.


There’s no turning back on women’s progress, as Pelosi notes in her speech when she said:

“It’s been with great pride in my 35 years in the House I have seen this body grow more reflective of our great nation, our beautiful nation. When I came to the Congress in 1987, there were 12 Democratic women. Now there are over 90. And we want more. The new members of our Democratic caucus will be about 75 percent women, people of color and L.G.B.T.Q. And we have brought more voices to the decision-making table.”

That’s 35 years of perseverance, understanding that progress can be slow and rarely goes in a straight line.

The 2004 March for Women’s Lives. I’m in the front row in pink, Nancy Pelosi in yellow to my right.

True, some days, the forces trying to push us into retrograde seem frighteningly strong. This 2018 analysis laid it out. And certainly SCOTUS’s 2022 Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade that for 50 years had assured women they, not the government, could control their bodies and childbearing decisions, has turned what Roe’s architect Justice Harry Blackmun called “a chill wind” into a blizzard worthy of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Without question, much work remains to be done to achieve true equity, equality, and parity for women, people of color, and all other groups that have traditionally been left out of the power equation.


Power and presence mean little when a politician has no agenda or platform of legislation that advance the people’s business.

Pelosi’s legislative wins are legendary, among them leading the way to enactment of the Affordable Care Act. She did make compromises on women’s health such as capitulating to the Catholic church over insurance coverage for abortion, but in the process also made sure that birth control, the best abortion preventer, is covered without copay. For many, this represents an example of her ability to work with what she has to achieve as much of what she sees as possible, often exceeding predictions.

Former President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010. Photo — NPR.

It’s easy to rail against the opposition. That’s not Pelosi’s style. Instead she shrewdly assesses what needs to be done and then figures out how to get much of it accomplished as she can given the circumstances. You do not see her playing politics for theatrical politics sake however, as is so often the case.

She points with pride to her platform accomplishments under presidents of both parties:

“[I]t’s been my privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people. I have enjoyed working with three presidents, achieving historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush; transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama; and forging — and forging the future from infrastructure to health care to climate action with President Joe Biden.”

This closing statement in her speech is to me the most powerful, most moving, and most likely to establish Pelosi’s place in history as one of our most effective Speakers.

She musters the power, presence, platform, and preservation of her platform by stepping aside on her own time and terms, saying: “Now we must move boldly into the future, grounded by the principles that have propelled us this far and open to fresh possibilities for the future…For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect. And I am grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.”

Happy Thanksgiving. Let’s all be grateful for Nancy’s Pelosi’s leadership and the many lessons we can learn from it.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Honored as Forbes 50 Over 50 2022, and Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at and Tweet Gloria Feldt.



Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.

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Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.