Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

June 2013

One on One With Condoleezza Rice

By Susan Sarfati, CAE

are two methods that I want to point out. One is simulation. I use it in my classes all the time and find it an excellent way to teach. Placing people into situations and actually making them play the situations out is a very good way to learn. Second, smaller group interaction on the heels of larger group interaction — and also on the heels of technological interaction — is important.

As a director of Stanford's Center for Global Business and the Economy, what are the major things you hope to accomplish?

The main thing is to make sure that students and alumni realize that “global” is not a subject. It is a state of mind. When I talk to an organization, they say they didn't really intend to go internationally but boundaries have greatly broken down.

We tend to teach and look at things in silos. We have to make sure to encourage learners to be sufficiently global. Many Stanford MBA students are from other countries, and that is a very good thing. I can teach about India or Pakistan, but to hear from others who live in these countries is an entirely different experience.

This does point out the need for organizations to invite attendees from other countries to participate in their meetings. You indicate that global consciousness is a requirement for a 21st-century leader. How do you develop that competency? How do you teach global consciousness?

By understanding what is going on in the world. We tend to develop caricatures of people from different locations around the world. China, for instance, is a terribly important country — big and complex. Yet we tend to characterize China only as a rising power economically without understanding the complexities of the culture and that we are not all alike but so different.

Encouraging people to acknowledge that and to want to know about other places and people is really very important. There are many world-affairs meetings focusing on international issues held all over the country that are open to the general public. I wish that more people would attend to broaden their thinking and knowledge.

There continues to be conversation about whether leadership is innate or learned. Is leadership something that can be taught at conferences or in school — and if so, how is it best done?

I tend to think that leaders emerge based on certain circumstances but also that something is innate there. Great leaders have a combination of innate instincts and taking advantage of being present during extraordinary times.

It is inexplicable how Nelson Mandela sitting in a jail cell could imagine a multiracial South Africa rather than one [in which] the dark population got power and oppressed the whites. Somehow his ability had to be innate. I think that great leaders are developed by a combination of having the right instincts and circumstances coming together at extraordinary times.

Let's move on to women's empowerment, as you are known to be a champion for women's full participation in society. How do you go about encouraging women (and men also) to achieve their highest potential? If you read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, could you also comment on her viewpoints?

Women need to work hard at taking advantage of opportunities. I do like Sheryl's idea that at some point you really have to lean in and go for it. If you don't, you aren't taking control of your circumstances and rather being a victim by saying that this person or that is doing this to me.

It is still difficult, as sometimes the cultural cues are not clear about women and their roles. However, if you keep thinking that others are mistreating you because you are a woman, it is probably your fault and not theirs. Women need to take responsibility for their own situations and empowerment.

What would you say are the major reasons that women are not well represented in the C-suite of Fortune 500 companies?

Their representation is growing. Women started by being more heavily represented as operations officers about 10 years ago, which was a good predicator of movement to CEO positions today. So, we really need to look at and further develop the pipeline.

People say, well, we never had a woman president. People are elected president from two categories of people — senators and governors. So, when you start to see a greater number of women senators and governors, you start to see a pool for presidential opportunities. And so, I am not surprised that the number is relatively low — but women's opportunities are growing and will continue to increase. I'm very optimistic.

In 1999, I recall being in the audience at the Kennedy Center when you were on a panel to select the Time magazine person of the 20th century. I don't recall any women even being considered.

Remember that women only got the vote in this country in the early 20th century. It then took another 50-plus years to develop women leaders nationally and internationally. So when we get to choosing the person of the 21st century, we will see women included.

Technology has hastened history by increasing the speed of change that leads to many transformations. Is the speed at which our world operates today a positive situation? What cautions would you offer?

Technology is definitely accelerating change. On the whole, I think it's positive. Social media is democratizing information in positive ways. A couple of cautions: In terms of politics, our institutions are made to work slowly. For example, a question is asked about what Congress will do on a specific issue. As soon as someone commits their opinion and then changes their mind, they are accused of flip-flopping. Because of the speed of technology and the media, having time to think isn't there.

Secondly, technology is permitting us to go into our corners ideologically. When I was growing up, everyone had basically the same newsfeed. Now technology is allowing us to gain exposure to very select slices of issues, so we all know different pieces.

Thirdly, there is no fact-checking on the Internet. Many things posted turn out to be not true. I have experienced many times being introduced and the facts are totally wrong — such as a list of the languages that I speak. Yes, I do speak Russian and French, but not Spanish. Recently I was introduced as a person who speaks Spanish, which is factually incorrect. Where did this misinformation come from? This kind of thing happens often and in much more serious ways.

What advice would you give to those who are leaders of nonprofit organizations and are challenged with a critical mission — having a great deal to accomplish with limited resources?

You have to prioritize, because you're trying to lead people. You want to give the right signals so those following you won't go off on tangents and directions that aren't helpful.

I always try to ask the question about what is the major enabling condition for a successful outcome. I came to that belief when I was chief operating officer at Stanford and we were working on a disaster-preparation plan. I asked what is the one enabling condition that will allow us to do other important things and if we don't do it, it will not allow us to do other important things. Then we need to rally people around that one enabling condition and be sure they have the resources to follow through.

I know so many people who spoke up for what they believed in with much more dire consequences than I had — when you look back in history, such as the life of my grandfather. I am in an incredibly privileged position. My parents spoke up for what they believed in. If you aren't able to do that, you can't very well look yourself in the mirror.

You need to speak up for what you believe in, and yes, there will be consequences, but people in earlier generations and people around the world have had it much harder. My speaking up is pretty small compared to others. Even when I was secretary, I had an obligation to speak my thoughts. We can overdramatize how hard it

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