Management Wisdom from a Versatile Leader: Condoleezza Rice


 Condoleezza Rice


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



Plain talk on good management from US government



I just OPM's John Berryread a talk by the head of the US government’s Office of Personnel Management, John Berry.  He provides a concise and cogent summary of the new management thinking that I hope will become a major influence in organizations around the world. This shift in management is, I believe, the result of two major trends. First, the crash of 2008 made it very clear that we had been placing too much emphasis and confidence in our top leaders while day-to-day quality of life for the rank-and-file stagnated or declined. Second, a huge wave of research in behavioral economics and positive psychology is shifting management practice toward methods that are tested and proven rather than anecdotal and heuristic.

Below are excerpts from the speech that illustrate some of my favorite points, the practices I emphasize with my own CEO executive coaching clients.

But don’t read my excerpts.

I recommend that leaders of organizations, particularly chief executives, read his entire speech by clicking here. Try to forget that he is speaking about government employees. Ignore references to the President and Congress. Imagine, instead, that you made this speech to your managers and employees. What would the impact be of making these changes in your own leadership style, in your company’s performance review process, in your day-to-day life?



Selected remarks of OPM Director John Berry
Interagency Resource Management Conference
Kellogg Conference Center

What if, when setting performance standards, we engaged our employees and got clear about expectations? What if we made sure performance standards were detailed, objective, aligned to agency mission and goals, and had employee buy-in – that they weren’t just dictated from on high?

Consider the four essential pieces of how we currently manage performance: (more…)