Cap and Gown honorary Dr. Condoleezza Rice honored the community of Stanford women with a “fireside chat” on Wednesday, January 23, 2013. Our 8th annual Stanford Women Winter Welcome at the Faculty Club was the best attended (over 300 people), most anticipated, and most exciting yet. If this event was not yet a tradition at Stanford before the 2013 event, this year’s Winter Welcome surely fixed the event in the tradition book for years to come.
Honorary Cap and Gown member Dr. Pat Jones, professor of biology, gave a warm welcome to the event. Pat has attended Winter Welcomes since our first in 2006 when Pat was our keynote speaker. She told us that the evening is not just about networking for education and career, but to learn from each other and hear about our fears and challenges, goals and aspirations. She encouraged us to network and to recognize that networking is multidirectional; learning goes both ways from more experienced to newer Stanford women and from younger to older. We stimulate each other and learn from each other.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice gave a personal and thought-provoking fireside chat and answered probing questions. She gave us advice through stories and examples from her own life:
How to become a leader? You need to prepare yourself, with passion, skills, and people to support you. First, you must find your passion. It’s what makes you want to get up every day. You may have to change your passion – her first was to become a concert pianist, to play in Carnegie Hall. She realized at age 17 that she was going to be able to play at piano bars or Nordstorm but not Carnegie Hall. There were students at age 12 doing pieces in one summer I had taken a year to learn. Your passion may find you and it won’t say, “You’re not the right person for this passion (a black woman can’t be a Soviet specialist!)”
You will need to find a mentor, people to help you and promote you in your career. Your mentor may not look like you – that’s ok as long as she or he cares about you and will advocate for you.
You must force yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you are math and science oriented, you need to write and read more. If you read and write, you need to do more math. You’ll get more satisfaction in mastering and achieving what is really difficult than what is easy. Here at Stanford is a good time to try it– this is a safe environment. Stretch – it will reward you. Be around people with different views. If you don’t, you won’t be able to defend your views. And, you might be wrong. You’ll find out from your friends and colleagues.
If you want to be a leader, do the details. It is not just for leaders to have the grand vision and for managers to do the details. Good leaders do the details too. Don’t coast at the higher level and delegate the work to others. Be sure you’re willing to both inspire and do the behind the scenes, hard work.
Nobody wants to follow a sourpuss. Be optimistic and people will follow your lead. If you are optimistic, you will not give in to grievance or entitlement. If you blame others, then you lose control of your life. Optimism comes from overcoming obstacles, the ability to step back, view the long road ahead and think about impacting the world, toward the world as it should be. This is what is fulfilling.
If you want to be confidence, then convey confidence. You can bet that others are feeling as doubtful as you after a difficult test, for example. Show your doubts only in your own room. Keep talking to yourself about your abilities. If you keep doubting yourself, you won’t go far.
Be qualified but stretch. For example, I became provost, but I’d never been a department head. I had managed Soviet relations in the United States. Gorbachov didn’t have tenure. I realized after that experience, I could be a provost.
Don’t let anyone tell you what to do because you are a (fill in the blank…. too young, a woman, a black woman…etc.) Be tough enough to back people off.
When were you last wrong? After 9/11, there was no precedent for responding to the attack. It was right to go after Saddam Hussein but I would rebuild Iraq differently. Also, I did not follow up on closing the Israeli/Palestinian agreement. We were so close to reaching agreement. However, the timing was not right; it was the November 2008 lame duck time frame and I thought it would be taken up again right where it had been left off. But it has never reached that level again.
How do you keep up your piano passion? I am engaged in children’s concerts. I make time to work at it. Brahms is not relaxing but focuses. I was invited by Yo Yo Ma to play together in a concert at Constitution Hall. I recognized I was invited not because I was the best pianist but because I was the National Security Advisor who could play. I’d like to be invited one day because I am good.
Talk about your passion for Stanford. I keep coming back because of the diversity of life here – ranging from attending a concert at the new Bing Concert Hall, to the Rose Bowl, and to the women’s Final Four if the women make it. The intellectual atmosphere is strong but also light, not oppressive. The connection with Silicon Valley goes both ways. There is a phenomenal breadth of exchange from 18-year-olds to Nobel Prize winners.
Talk about your new role in CBS commentary. This is a role that will allow 9 to 11 opportunities per year to provide commentary on shows like Face the Nation about topics that are important to me such as education at the K-12 level and immigration.
How to balance policy and principle? There is a balance between being too fickle and too stubborn. Policy is a way to achieve something. Sometimes policy disagreements are seen as disagreements of principle. Policy may have to bridge principles.
You talked about giving back. How do you do it? Dad was a Presbyterian minister, community service was a way of life. Both parents are deceased. While I believe I said and did everything to tell them I appreciated them, it was probably not enough. Tell those who sacrificed for you that you appreciate them.
What next? I have three things to do: Write a book on democracy. Complete a project with David Kennedy on “Who are the Americans” – possibly a film. Nail the Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor with an orchestra.
After Condoleezza Rice’s talk, over 100 participants engaged in discussions about her inspiring talk and challenges they faced and opportunities to overcome them.
The event is hosted by Cap and Gown, and sponsored and funded by the Schools of Humanities and Sciences ($2000) and Earth Sciences ($500), Undergraduate Advising/Dean of Freshmen ($500), and the Women’s Community Center. Thank you to the committee: Michelle Galloway, Naomi Waltman, Susie Philips, Ellen Cerf, Jacquelyn Wong, Kristen Glass, and Jessica Mahler. Special thanks to active Molly Welch who secured Condoleezza Rice to speak, to Kathryn Kilner for communications and tweeting during the event, and to Shari Kuchenbecker and Ellie Mansfield for taking photos.
We look forward to the ninth Winter Welcome in 2014. Join us! In the meantime, you’ll find Condoleezza’s book engaging and even more personal than the stories she told: Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family by Condoleezza Rice.