Condoleezza Rice on Influence

In honor of Women’s History Month, Refresh Leadership takes a look at a trailblazer in leadership. Born in Birmingham, AL, Condoleezza Rice was raised in a mostly segregated society, rising above adversity and becoming one of the most politically powerful people in the U.S. government. Studying at the University of Denver and Notre Dame, as well as participating in a fellowship at Stanford, Rice first interned under the Carter Administration and focused her dissertation in military policy and politics under communism.

With a focus on nuclear strategy, Rice left her position as provost at Stanford, and became a special assistant to the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Throughout her tenure, she proved to be a stern, but kind leader, rising to the ranks of Secretary of State. Joining Madeline Albright as the second female Secretary of State and succeeded by Hilary Clinton, Rice is the only Black female American to lead in this high-profile role.

Her views on powerful women in leadership have been a bright light for future generations.

“The day has to come when it’s not a surprise that a woman has a powerful position.”

As a trailblazer for women and other minorities, Rice lead graciously, fully embracing the meaning of her first name. Derived from the musical annotation “con dolcezza,” her name literally means “with sweetness and gentleness.” And this is how she led in the most powerful roles in the government. She saw power has a gift that needs to be cultivated and used wisely.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Rice explains that the best leaders know how to use power effectively.

“Power is nothing unless you can turn it into influence. When people talk about management style, they’re really talking about how someone uses power. I’ve been in positions where I had to be heavy-handed, and I’ve been in positions where I needed to bring people together and persuade them. But sometimes you have to make difficult decisions, and you have to make them stick.”

Whether you are a newly selected leader or have been managing teams for decades, Rice’s focus on how to utilize power and influence can help inspire you to better lead your organization. During your tenure, you will be tasks with making difficult decisions; but it’s how you handle the situation and how well you stick to your guns that will make you a great leader.

Who are some of your favorite leaders? What have you learned by studying their work? Let us know in the comments section below!

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