Dr. Condoleezza Rice Shares Personal Thoughts on Leadership, Norwich University with University Community

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At Norwich University’s Residency Conference in June 2014, many were inspired by Dr. Condoleezza Rice’s keynote address. The former secretary of state addressed some of the leadership challenges currently playing out on the global stage. Following her talk, Dr. Rice sat for a one-on-one interview with this 2014 Master of Arts in History program graduate and veteran journalist where she provided her definition of a leader and the skill set required of successful leaders in today’s world.

“I think a leader, first of all, has to have integrity,” said Rice. “That means you never ask someone to do something you would never do. … I think the most important thing a leader can do is recognize leadership qualities in others. Part of your responsibility is to not just say, ‘Charge this hill with me,’ but to make sure you are developing other people’s skills as well.”

Rice recalled learning this lesson first hand as Stanford University provost between 1993 and 1999.

“I was provost at Stanford at 38, and I had never been a dean,” she said. “I was pretty inexperienced. And I had a lot of qualities that were good qualities, but I had to learn how to delegate to people. Always, if something needed to be done I’d rush out and do it myself. You know, that’s why I say now it’s important to develop leadership qualities in others. If you’re constantly interfering in work you’ve asked others to do, it will be frustrating for them and for you.”

Rice was forced to put this theory to use as Secretary of State, overseeing the U.S. Department of State and its 57,000 employees worldwide. Communication, for instance, became a daily challenge.

“You are getting up about the time they are going to bed in some parts of the world,” noted Rice, who served as the 66th U.S. Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009. “So how do you get a message to people you never see? And so learning how to make sure down through the organization people are receiving the message about what is expected.”

Rice encouraged Norwich University graduates to find people “who will get to know you and advocate for you and mentor and help you along the way.” In her career, she noted the tutelage of former U.S. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, whom she served under as the Senior Director of Soviet and Eastern European Affairs on the National Security Council under President George H.W. Bush.

“There’s an idea that we all want to get there on our own,” Rice said. “Nobody gets there on their own. The people you meet in your life are extremely important. You have to put in the hard work. You have to put in the time to become educated, to be good at something. But it also matters to have people to talk to.”

In Norwich University, and specifically in Norwich’s College of Graduate and Continuing Studies, which serves working adults and lifelong learners, Rice discovered an institution that offered meaningful traditional and non-traditional paths to higher education. As a result, Rice thinks the university attracts a unique student population filled with leaders. “As I have learned about [the online programs for adults at] Norwich, the wonderful thing is they bring people in who already have a background and experience,” Rice said. “Some of whom are in mid-career, who are looking to change direction, or are looking to enhance their capabilities and their credentials. And so this is a place where I think people can learn from each other and it’s a really remarkable place …

“I know a lot of the work is online, and I know a lot of people come here for the residency experience. I hope they take an opportunity to really get to know each other and learn from those experiences. I teach at a university where it’s more traditional. You come here as an 18-year-old, and that’s all great. But I’ve always thought that the people who are making that decision to re-invent themselves are some of the most interesting people in the world.”

Ron J. Jackson, Jr. is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing professionally for 29 years. He is the author of the upcoming nonfiction historical narrative, Joe, the Slave Who Became an Alamo Legend (University of Oklahoma Press, 2015), and a member of the Western Writers of America. In June, Jackson received his Master of Arts in History from Norwich University. He lives in Binger, Oklahoma with his wife, Jeannia, and their four children.