Assistant Secretary, President Obama, President Trump discussed on Coaching for Leaders


Webster's dictionary defines diplomacy as the skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility. No doubt that. Today's guest is an expert in diplomacy. I'm so glad to welcome to the show today. Susan Rice Susan served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations. During President Barack Obama's first term in office. She was leader appointed by President Obama as national security advisor a position. She held until the end of his presidency. Today she is the distinguished visiting research fellow at the School of International Service at American University. A nonresident senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the New York Times Bestseller. Tough love my story of things worth fighting for Madam Ambassador so glad to welcome you to coaching for leaders. Thanks so much David great to be with you. Your experience with diplomacy started at seven years old. You grew up in a household. Where both of your parents clearly loved you and your brother but as you say they had no business being married and there was an intense fighting that lasted for years. And you write that as a young child you intervened a lot. What did she do to intervene? As you mentioned starting at about the time I was seven I would hear them fighting quite loudly and sometimes violently. When I was trying to sleep at night I had a younger brother who was two years younger than me. Still do thankfully if I heard the fighting sound like it was getting kind of scary and out of Control. I would sneak downstairs and spy on them. See what was going on and if it did seem like it was going in a- scary direction I would step in. Sometimes that meant you know trying to talk them down and reason with both of them and sometimes it meant you know trying to separate them. But I felt like I didn't do it. It wasn't going to happen and I wanted to ensure that for me and my brother you know things were as safe as they could be and I write a lot in the book about my parents who are both really wonderful accomplished professionals who taught me a huge amount and themselves came from very modest backgrounds and rose to do great things both of them but in the realm of their marriage it was not a happy paradigm and. I had to learn to mediate to a large extent. I'm not sure I'd call that diplomacy because sometimes to separate them to try to defuse the situation. It wasn't always diplomatic but it was mediation and inadvertently I think. In Retrospect I. I learned some experiences with conflict and parties that are perhaps intractable opposed and trying to resolve differences that served me later in my life and career in ways that I could just depicted as a child and deed. What did you learn from those early moments that as you reflect on your career in diplomacy that you still pull from well? I think I learned from an early age in large part from my parents fighting but also from being a family where debate on issues and on the news of the day and between and among the you know my dad and my uncles or over the dinner table when it was me and my brother and my mom and dad that you know. A robust debate and the robust argument is fine. When it goes and veers into you know the scary or the violent as it did sometimes between my parents obviously. That's not fine but what I think I developed. In addition to some experience with mediation was a lack of discomfort and some people are with conflict with disagreement with argument. I'm not scared to express my own opinion to do it with confidence. I'm not scared to disagree or dissent and I think that did help me to be willing to stand up to be conflict averse not to provoke conflict by any means but if there is a robust debate to be engaged. It's it's not something I've ever shied from the thing. I think I learned from experience with my parents is a measure of resilience in those early years. Between Seven and eight when I first started being drawn into their conflicts through the time that I was roughly fifteen when they long since broken up but then had a very public very ugly an antagonistic custody battle over being my brother. Those were really challenging years for me. Socially emotionally academically and so I had to figure out how in the context of a broken home and a lot of pleasantness. I could still find my pudding as a student. Find my footing as the leader. Repair my friendships. Which I think I had you know around fifth and sixth grade. Done a good bit of damage to just because I was so angry and bringing that anchor to places where it wasn't expected or appropriate so I had to learn how to be my best when things were harder than they might otherwise have been and I realized along the way that I could take a punch in the form of what was going on my family life and keep running and sustain that part and be okay ultimately so I gained a ironically through data degree of confidence in my own strength and resiliency that I also think helped me as a senior official down the road and the knives you the bullets might have been flying and I was able to. I think draw on that reservoir of experience and belief in my own ability to persevere that proves helpful Indeed you were an assistant secretary of state back in the Clinton administration and former Congressman Howard. Volpi you had a deep respect for took you to lunch one day early in your tenure and had some pretty direct words you write in the book that he said you are too hard charging in hardheaded rather than listen. Well he said you are overly directive and intimidate others so much that you quell dissent stifled. Contrary advice. He allowed that. I was smart but to Brash. Knowledgeable but immature. He warned me bluntly that I would fail as an assistant secretary if I did not crack horse and you you say later that you came to largely agree with his assessment and so curious. What did you do to shift from that? Well the context for this was I was at age. Thirty two named an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. I think I'm still the youngest person ever to have been named a regional assistant secretary of state and I came from four plus years of working in the White House including closely with the president and the National Security Adviser and I knew the substance of my brief very well but I was young and I had never led a team the size of the one that I was leading and virtually all of the senior people all of the ambassadors. It reported to me and many others were twenty to thirty years. My senior most of them are career. Foreign Service officers mostly white men and I was very young and African American woman in an environment where in any event they were very few women or minorities and I had just had a brand new baby three months earlier and so I was impressed feeding mother in a small c conservative culture where none of what I represented was particularly familiar and so I came in very determined as many political appointees are that you know. We have a finite amount of time. We have an agenda on a get through. I had the support of the Secretary of state at the time who is Madeleine. Albright and President Clinton the National Security Adviser and we knew what we wanted to do and I wanted to get it done And about six months into my tenure in one thousand nine hundred ninety eight a series of crises hit war broke out in east Africa. War broke out in the Congo involving six other countries. In what was known as Africa's First World War Angola Sudan Liberia? All these things sort of came to crisis simultaneously and then in August of nineteen ninety eight al Qaeda attacked our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killing twelve Americans and over two hundred Kenyans and Tanzanians and so it was a horrific loss and a huge emotional and policy blow for all of us who were working on Africa at the time and we had lost our colleagues and so against this backdrop of the pressure of the terrorist attack the fact that we were constantly receiving a stream of credible threats against other of our African embassies that we had to take very seriously. It was a very stressful time. At my approach to dealing with it was rather than sort of wallow it emotion and address the pain that we were all feeling ahead on my approach to it as a young and relatively inexperienced leader was just to charge through it to kind of I did with my parents divorce quite frankly you know we have a crisis..

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