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



The Oft Evaded “Now”


Reason is what tells us to ignore the present and live in the future. So all we do is make plans. We think that somewhere there are going to be greener pastures. It’s crazy. Heaven is nothing but a grand, monumental instance of the future.

Listen, now is good. Now is wonderful.

Mel Brooks


Click to see larger image

A wonderful–and apparently unique–skill we humans have is the ability to weave the recalled events of the past and the imagined events of the future into a meaningful story. Tragically, we are often the victims of this skill though we could be its master. Most of us spend more time in this story of memory and speculation than we do in our present experience. We overlook “now” as we endlessly evade the present by engaging in regret, worry, or hope.

I saw a small example of this recently in my CEO executive coaching group. One member mentioned that (more…)

Stories sell

People think in stories. No, that’s not the important thing. People feel in stories. Feelings (emotions) help people decide, buy, stay loyal, and refer new customers.

Heinen's Fine Foods“One of the things Whole Foods taught us is the need to tell stories” about our products, Mr. Heinen said. In fact, Heinen’s has 50 stories that it trains employees to tell customers about its meat, produce, baked goods and other items.

Tom Heinen
Heinen’s Fine Foods in
The New York Times

What stories are your customers and prospective customers hearing about you?



See also, Creation Myths and Why We Need Them: Origins.