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For Condoleezza Rice, role models chart the course

Condoleezza Rice

“We sometimes have this conceit that ‘I got there on my own,’” 66th U.S. Secretary of State, former National Security Advisor, Denning Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution Condoleezza Rice told senior industry leaders at NEW Executive Leaders Forum, August 2 in Santa Barbara. “Nobody gets there on their own. Everybody has mentors and role models.”

Rice shared life and career lessons about playing the long game, winning with integrity and empowering diverse leadership with more than 300 NEW members during her keynote “Staying on Course” on day two of the three-day NEW Forum.

“Another conceit is that role models have to look like you,” Rice said, reflecting on an early career decisions. “It’s great if they do, but if I had been waiting for a black female Soviet specialist role model, I would still be waiting. Instead, my role models were white men.”

In the beginning, however, Rice was influenced by those closest to her. “I was fortunate to grow up in segregated Alabama — because I had parents who were extraordinary.”

From an early age, Rice was taught by her parents to believe that her horizons were limitless. “They taught me to believe that I could be President of the United States if I wanted to be. By the way, they would have been satisfied if I would have said secretary of state.”

“Work to be twice as good,” was another lesson her parents emphasized. “Because if you put in the time and you put in the effort, you will walk into that room and know that you belong.”

“When I look out across the world,” Rice said, “if I could wave one magic wand, it would be for women’s empowerment. Not because it’s the ‘right’ thing, but because it would solve so many other problems."

Educating women would help prevent overpopulation, human trafficking and their political disempowerment. As her parents and role models taught her, “education [is] something that nobody could take from you. If you [have] an education, you [have] armor.”

Rice urges leaders to share their own lessons and support. “When you think about where you are today, did you think you’d ever be here? We sometimes don’t’ take the time to stop and think, I’m so fortunate — and now it’s my responsibility to pass it on to others.”