Tough Love: My Story of Things Worth Fighting For – Susan Rice

54. All the violence, the fractious debates, and the Washington political dramas gripped me as a child. I could never wish, nor would I be able, to ignore my city, my nation, or the world. My parents refused to give us that luxury – to allow us to think that public issues were somehow remote from us. They steeped us in the tumult, forced us to confront our relative privilege, and taught us explicitly that we had both agency and responsibility – the ability to effect change and the expectation that we must.

70. The hallmark, I would later learn, of a sustainable solution to an intractable conflict [between opposing sides is when] … no one was happy but everyone dealt with it.”

73-74. A great THIRD OPTION [Her parents’ lawyers asked her and her brother to testify as to which parent the preferred to live with! The kids’ pro bono lawyer invited the kids to her house (a good, neutral, kid-friendly location to relax them and help them think) and said], I have an idea, why don’t you write the judge and tell him how you feel about your parents and explain that you don’t want to testify?”

74-75. [As parents were divorcing] Unable to sway the outcome of their marriage , I turned my focus to what I could control – school, friendships, sports – and willed myself not to be undone by my parents’ drama. Understanding the difference between what I could influence and what I could not priced an important survival tool for the future. From this ordeal, I began learning how to nurture my relationships rather than take them for granted, to channel my frustrations into constructive effort rather than letting my anger fester. Discovering that I had the ability to steady myself, even in the eye of a storm, I emerged with greater confidence and inner strength. The onslaught has shaken me I could take a bruising hit and keep running. Instead of being a victim, I counted my perseverance as a personal triumph. Painful as it was, the divorce gave me steel and grit, an early taste of adversity, and what I came to know as its corollary: resilience.

78. To be most prepared, you must have already gained by taking a punch and correcting course.

87. Playing point guard taught me how to lead a team in which everyone adds value, and my optimal contribution is not as an individual but is in eliciting the best performance from all the players in unison.

96. [After time taken off from Brookings Institute to work with Obama’s campaigb] “that same sense of uncertainty and anticipation, tinged with hopefulness, recalled …. when I first left home for college. Heading west to Stanford, I was finally escaping the confines of the familiar and the constraints of other people’s expectations, feeling free at last to forge my own way.

97. [Advice from her father to:] “Know what I think at any given time but be flexible and prepared to change my mind – to upgrade or downgrade my judgements, including of people, without waiting for a crisis or confrontation.”

117. [After completing her second year at Oxford she faced a decision to return to the US and go to law school or stay at Oxford and convert the masters into a doctoral degree. However, from her perspective, many of the courses in activities throughout her time in school, as well as her experiences in international relations were “meant to broaden me, not become my Destiination.” What am I choosing/doing/learning which will strengthen me as a servant leader in my final destination, but which is/are not themselves the final destination(s)?

Like Jilma Meneses advised me: at some point after being together for years, the relationship between a great leader and a great organization unavoidably begins to have a recursive effect.

129. [As she was reading her daughter a bedtime story, phone rings.]. “Hi. It’s Barack. I hope I’m not interrupting anything important.” “No, I was just reading Maris a bedtime story.” “That’s important,” he said. “Call me back when you are done.” And this when he was calling to ask her to be U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.! This is how to treat people Presidentially. Relatedly, she responded by asking for National Security Advisor position. In response to her directness, Barack was both clear that he had intended to appoint Jim Jones with more experience, and Barack exhibited that he was unfazed by her directness (which she noted and was satisfied with). Also relatedly, it is noteworthy that he selected Hillary as his Secretary of State, given they ran against each other – Presidents do what is best for the organization.

132. [When faced with decisions of career/projects which include something “in the wheelhouse” and something outside of the wheelhouse, she contemplated what it would be like a few years down the road if she tried to jump back from A to B versus what it would be like to jump back from B to A. Wise.]. “As a pragmatist, I also calculated (perhaps in accurately) that if, later on, I wanted to make the leap back to economic or domestic policy there would be more opportunities to do so than if I tried to jump from the domestic to the international side, where the established experts would more likely doubt the applicability of my experience.” Similarly, P. 133, when she was offered a policy job like she wanted – but it was for Africa, which she didn’t want she declined – probably putting leaving the offerer of the job thinking she was a 28-year old with too much hutzpah. However, in retrospect, she was glad to not be pigeonholed as a black person with expertise limited to Africa, but rather as someone who could “work on wider issues.”

135. “Follow the money; where there is money, there is real potential policy impact. If you can grasp the budget and figure out where to vacuum up underutilized funds, you will run circles around your interagency colleagues”, Randy Beers advises Susan.

135. From watching Dick (Clarke) I also learned the pitfalls of behaving with unnecessary aggressiveness while mastering the nuts and bolts of making policy and moving the interagency bureaucracy.

191. Howard Wolpe – a mentor to Susan – explained to her “how she had alienated most members of my team. “you are too hard-charging and hardheaded,” he said. Rather than listen well, he said, “You are overly directive and intimidate others so much that you quell dissent and stifle contrary advice.” [Ben adds: which leads to “eruptions” from others – and legitimate disruption/eruptions because they still feel what I railroad-over even and as I ignore/denigrate it/them, their perceptions/feelings/reactions are REAL and appropo – so they exist and pile up. They have to go somewhere. Eventually they stack up and overflow / erupt).

191-192. He allowed that I was smart, but too brash, knowledgeable but immature. He warned me bluntly that I would fail as assistant secretary if I did not correct course. Yet Howard also made clear that he wanted me to succeed and his advice came from a place of respect and affection.”

192. At first I was knocked back, not expecting to be taken to the woodshed. As the seriousness of Howard’s message sent Ken, I collect myself and listened carefully. Crushed by the weight of my own failure, I felt relieved – even in that very difficult moment – that I had someone nearby like Howard who is not afraid to administer the toughest kind of love. I asked clarifying questions, without defensiveness, fully understanding how important and emergent his message was. After thinking him profusely for his guts and generosity, I took the holiday to fully absorb it and reflect on what he said.

192. I was hurt but sobered, chastened but not angry. He was right. I had to do better.

192. I needed to be more patient, have multiple speeds, slow down, and stop driving my team so hard and fast…. I had to listen and solicit competing opinions, build personal relationships ships, not simply direct but generate collective ownership of decisions.

192. In addition, as my third grade teacher long-ago advise, I had to learn to be more patient and forgiving of others and show more respect for the experience of my career colleagues.

192. Thanks to Howard, I was able to correct course before it was too late. Under his tutelage, I became a better leader and manager, as he kindly knowledged. I also gained a deep appreciation and respect for the short January talent invite and experience embodied… In those I worked with, and have since done my utmost to help develop and promote them… I champion increased funding, enhanced security, and do appreciation for the service and sacrifice…

192. In later years, when I coached others, I haven’t cited the value to me of Howard’s intervention, which truly saved me from myself.

197-199 be aware of those who view each of us as a competitor. Sometimes obvious (same age, aspiration, level/speed of ladder-climbing). Sometimes not obvious – older, three levels above us, but jealous that we are “going faster/further” than they did back in their day…. like Richard Holdbrooke VS Susan Rice.

201. The tenacity of an Enneagram eight, and sometimes bring much frustration in others. “ The meeting feel the work progress toward meeting for debt relief but under scored how much frustration greeted my tenacity in some quarters.”

203-4. I learned that leader ship is more like conducting a symphony then performing as a virtuoso player of any single instrument – often with multiple, potentially dissonant musicians and they need to achieve harmony among them. I also found that securing the Biane and support of those career officials who will outlast any political appointee can be slow and cumbersome, but the extra effort and patience it takes to get there can pay last thing dividends. The most entering outcomes are not always a swift this one; indeed, the best route from point a to point B is not I was a straight line but could be a path with twists and turns.

203/4 continued. I resolved to make enemies wisely: if it is not necessary to burn a bridge, don’t. Enemies you thought you left behind on the side of the road have a nasty habit of getting back up, dusting themselves off, and trying to chase you down. Another lesson learned: some adversaries aren’t worth the effort; they are better ignored or given the Heisman (stiff arm) Then combated directly. Others merit combat. As a matter of temperament and morality, I always prefer to be direct, as my father taught me, and us to launch a prompt frontal assault. But I have learned with time sometimes patience is the best strategy for achieving the purest justice.

203/4. Winning the respect of African leaders, my superiors in the cabinet… The bulk of my ambassadors, and my… Staff was a serious challenge. Emetic, perhaps against the odds, because we are able to, ultimately, to achieve significant … results.

211. At age 36, I already had significant experience in national security policy making; but, down the road, I hoped to serve it more senior ranks – eventually the cabinet level. To do that, I had to broaden my knowledge and expertise… And be excepted as someone who could contribute… Globally. Making this transition would not be easy. Most former regional assistant secretaries of State continue to work primarily in their original area of expertise after they leave government… Seemingly content to stick with the region they know best. I need to forge a different path.

So, 211-212, she became a researcher for Brookings Institute and member of Aspen Strategy Group. These gave her breadth of knowledge/research, and afforded time for family and for flexibility to serve local and national non-profits.

289-290. She went on a long-planned vacation with family even though it was right after Obama ordered air strikes in Libya and she took a call on vacation from Bill Daley. He chewed her out for “starting a ****ing war and then you go on vacation…?” She called Valerie Jarrett who did what Erin Clinton did – Valerie essentlly told Susan, that wasn’t really for you.”