In the first year or so it wasn’t just about proving how tough I was, I had to be tough. I was pretty sharp with people. But I’d learned in the classroom, the last thing you want to do is put somebody down because then they freeze, and not only do they freeze, but the whole class freezes. I had to relearn that lesson as a manager. … Early on I didn’t know how to delegate things. I was always trying to do other people’s jobs. I learned that first of all, you’ll drive yourself crazy doing that, and secondly you won’t have very good people working for you very long.
I found it useful to remember that most institutions don’t want to change. They’re institutions because they’ve developed a certain set of traditions and norms and expertise, and change is hard. A lot of the work I’d done as an academic affirmed that usually institutions change when they’re failing. It’s very hard to make them change when they’re succeeding. They take the cues too late from the environment.
I found three things helpful.
- One is that you have to paint a picture of other times that that institution has responded to change and difficulty successfully.
- Secondly, [it helps] if you can find in the institution a counter-narrative that supports the direction of change.
- And finally you have to look to see whether there are impediments to people doing the right thing. Mostly in good organizations, and the Department of State was certainly one, and I found this at Stanford too, people want to do the right thing — they don’t want to be obstructionist — but sometimes there are things that make it hard for them to do the right thing.
— Condoleezza Rice
On being Provost of Stanford University
& Secretary of State
in Harvard Business Review