For former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, leadership starts with core values.
“The most important trait of good leaders is to be operating out of some core values,” Rice said. “If you are not operating from some sense of what is truly right and wrong and what really is a matter of principle then you will just be constantly buffeted by the events and winds you find yourself in.”
Rice will focus on leadership when she speaks at Georgia Southern University inside Hanner Fieldhouse tonight. Her visit to Georgia Southern is sponsored by the Office of the Vice-President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and the Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement. Recently, Rice gave an exclusive interview to the Statesboro Herald in anticipation of her visit and she shared her observations on leadership.
Rice served for eight years in the administration of George W. Bush. She was national security advisor for Bush’s first term and secretary of state in his second term. Rice was at the forefront of two of the most historic events in U.S. history — the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq.
And now that she’s back in California at Stanford University, she doesn’t miss the crucible of shaping world events.
“I certainly like getting up in the morning, reading the newspaper and thinking I don’t have to do anything about what’s in it,” Rice said.
Nonetheless, Rice was grateful for her time on the world stage.
“It was a great eight years and a unique opportunity to represent the country that I love so very much,” she said.
One lesson she said she learned personally and from working with world leaders was watching what you say in public.
“As a president or prime minister or secretary of state you deal with multiple issues at all times,” she said. “You have to get accustomed to not saying anything off the cuff because everything is so magnified. You can stumble into trouble pretty easily. You measure what you say very carefully.”
Rice said whether you are leading a country, a company or a department setting priorities is vital.
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed if the people you are leading don’t have a sense of priorities,” she said. “Then they will start to spin in several different directions and won’t accomplish anything.”
Decision-making in and of itself, Rice said, trips up lots of leaders.
“You have to make a decision at some point,” she said. “You can consult, talk to people, gather advice. Sooner or later you have to make a decision. If you don’t make a decision, you are not leading. It’s a mistake to think everything stops until you decide. Time will go on. Other decisions will get made and events will move forward with the absence of your own decision. You have to be timely and be firm in your decisions.”
As secretary of state, Rice worked with President Obama when he was a on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I think he tries very hard to bring Americans together around a common narrative about who we are,” she said. “He tries to make clear he is president for all Americans. Everything I’ve seen indicates he is a strong leader.”
Rice has stayed out of the spotlight since leaving office in January. She returned to Stanford where she started as an assistant professor in 1981 and is now the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution and professor of political science. Rice also serves as a member of the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In addition, she is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In addition to her academic work at Stanford, Rice said her future plans include writing a book about her experiences on the world stage and another one about her parents. Also, Rice is a classically trained and world class pianist and she hopes to have more opportunity to practice. But she said she’ll only play in public now as part of a quartet.
“I have to bring violinists, cellists and violists with me (to play),” Rice said.
On the public stage, Rice said she plans to push a strong education initiative in the coming months and years.
“As secretary of state, I was able to see the great strengths and great challenges of our nation,” Rice said. “I am an advocate of the great national belief that you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. And it starts with education. Education may be our greatest national security priority.”