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Give them a reason to believe in you’

Nicole Michels and Kaitlyn Rabach | Monday, September 23, 2013

Never has a woman served in the highest public office in the United States, and men outnumber women in Congress, 517 to 118. But, three women have stood at the helm of United States foreign policy formation as secretaries of state. Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the second woman and second African American to hold the position, spearheaded American efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East and helped to lead the country through the Iraq War’s beginning, Sept. 11, the collapse of the Soviet bloc and German reunification

Rice, who received her master’s degree in political science from Notre Dame in 1975, served as national security advisor from 2001 to 2005 and as secretary of state from 2005 to 2009 under the Bush administration. Rice said she was able to lead within the male-dominated security field because she was confident.

“Early on in my career, I think when I walked in the room, people might have been a little surprised that I studied military affairs, and Soviet military affairs at that, but when you walk into a room like that, you have to walk in with confidence,” Rice said. “And what makes you confident is the sense that you’re well prepared. So, I always felt that I was well prepared and I never felt out of place in those circumstances. But I think there’s no doubt that when I walked in the room there were a few raised eyebrows, right at the beginning.

“But you get used to that, and you get to the place where you just move on and do the business that you’re there to do.”

A seat at the table

Connecting with leading foreign policymakers helped Rice to break into the ranks of the field’s most elite thinkers, she said. Among these interactions was a critically important meeting with Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor under Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush, during a 1985 arms control meeting at Stanford University.

“When President George H.W. Bush won the presidency, Brent [Scowcroft] went to be his national security advisor, and Brent asked me to come and be his Soviet specialist on the National Security Council,” Rice said.

After her time within the Bush administration, Rice returned to Stanford in order to remain eligible for tenure at the university. She then met George Shultz, then-secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, at the Hoover Institution. Shultz invited her to a luncheon club, where she engaged other preeminent foreign policy intellectuals.

“You have to find people who will advocate for your career, who believe in you. … You have to give them a reason to believe in you,” Rice said. “So, you have to be good at what you’re doing, but in the case of both George Shultz and Brent Scowcroft, they were very senior people. … And so I got to know them, and they began to introduce me to other people in the field.”

Rice said Scowcroft and Shultz helped her to jumpstart her career, even though they were not from similar backgrounds or of the same demographics as her.

“I know that people say you need role models to look like you,” Rice said. “It’s wonderful, if that’s the case, but my mentors were white men. They were old, white men, because those were the only people who dominated my field. Had I been waiting for a black, female Soviet role model, I’d still be waiting. Firsts only come about when you’re willing to take that first step. Even if there is somebody in the field who doesn’t look like you, don’t make that a constraint.”

A world of ideas and research

Rice graduated from the University of Denver in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and from the University of Notre Dame in 1975 with a master’s in political science. She then received her Ph.D. at the age of 26 from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver in 1981.

Though her expertise positioned her well to be an influential policymaker, Rice said her time in academia made it more difficult for her to depend on others to supply her with specialist knowledge while serving as a high-level policymaker.

“When I say I’m an academic, what I mean is that there is no greater profession for me than teaching and the world of ideas and research,” Rice said. “My academic background, of course, gave me the depth of expertise, … starting with the work that I did [at Notre Dame] in international politics and economics, becoming a specialist on the Soviet Union, deepening that knowledge. One of the hard things when you’re a policymaker is that if you’re an academic, you like to know things in great depth. I probably knew more about the Soviet general staff than they knew about themselves, at one point in my life.

“When you are a policymaker, you aren’t ever going to know everything in depth – you’re going to have to depend on other people’s expertise. That is a little bit hard sometimes, for academics, to make decisions when you aren’t the expert on an issue.”

As a result of her studies, especially at Notre Dame, Rice said she developed a very strong sense of “the important values.”

“I’m actually a Presbyterian minister’s daughter, and I’ve been deeply religious all my life. This important link of faith and reason, the recognition that faith and reason are not enemies of one another, is very important and has been very important in my development,” Rice said. “I think Notre Dame played a major role for me in that.”

The essence of leadership

Developing the ability to adhere to personal values while making decisions is a critical component of good leadership, Rice said.

“I think the most important characteristic of a leader is to have integrity,” she said. “When you look in the mirror and you’re about to ask people who you’re leading to do something, ask yourself, ‘Is this something I would do?’ And if the answer is ‘This isn’t something I would do,’ then don’t ask people who work for you to do it.”

Rice said leaders should focus not only on shaping the paths ahead for their organizations, but also on developing the leadership capacities of their support staff.

“I think that it’s really important to recognize that part of your job is to recognize leadership qualities in other people. You can’t lead by yourself,” she said. “You need others, a team, to help you lead, and the larger the organization, the more people you need to help you lead. And so, recognizing and nurturing leadership qualities in other people is one of the really important characteristics of leadership.”

Critical to Rice’s leadership in American foreign policy was cultivating her own awareness of her goal, she said.

“You have to have a strong sense of the essence of what you’re trying to do,” Rice said. “In American foreign policy, that meant really understanding what the United States really meant in the world and building on that.”

Rice said both men and women need to draw on a broad spectrum of leadership qualities.

“Sometimes you want to collaborate and bring people together. Sometimes you just have to say, ‘No, we’re going to do it that way,'” Rice said. “Both women and men have to do that. … I don’t think women are any more collaborative or any less tough. If you’re going to be a leader, you’re going to have to have all of those qualities.”

‘Work twice as hard’

Realizing she would be unable to turn her childhood dream into a fulfilling career, Rice said maintaining an open mind allowed her to develop a passion that she eventually made into a career.

“It may actually not even be the first passion that works out,” Rice said. “I went to college to be a piano performance major, and having recognized that I was probably going to end up teaching 13-year-olds to murder Beethoven for a living, I decided to find another way.

“Fortunately, I wandered into a class in international politics in my junior year of college, and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what I want to do.'”

Nurturing passion for something is key to a successful career, Rice said.

“You have to find something you’re really passionate about, because if you’re passionate about something, you’ll spend the time to become really good at it,” she said. “Becoming good doesn’t mean skimming the surface and becoming superficially good. My parents used to say to me, because I grew up in segregated Birmingham, Ala., where prejudice was all around us, … ‘You have to be twice as good.’

“Now, that’s actually not a bad idea even if you’re not growing up in segregated Birmingham, Ala. Because if you think you have to be twice as good, you’ll work twice as hard. And so, I always felt like I outworked everybody.”

Rice said getting involved in politics requires a sense of optimism.

“You actually have to give the political system a chance,” Rice said. “I know there are a lot of reasons these days to not have very much faith in our political system. I know that a lot of people are skeptical about Washington, D.C. People don’t trust the political system, but we’re a democracy.

“We have to own our institutions. We have to own our political process.”