Former Ambassador Karen Hughes, the fall 2013 Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women in Politics, shared witty and thoughtful insights on the “The CEOS of Leadership: Clarity, Example and Optimism” with more than 300 people who attended her presentation on Oct. 3 in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.
Hughes was invited to Iowa State’s campus as part of the Smith lecture series – which is organized and coordinated by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics – because of her extensive experience in public administration, public policy and communication. She served as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs with the rank of ambassador from 2005 to 2007 and was a key adviser to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002. Since 2008, Hughes has served as worldwide vice chair for Burson-Marsteller, a leading global public relations and communications firm.
“Karen’s presentation on leadership was very well-received by students, faculty and staff as well as members of the community who attended,” said Dianne Bystrom, Catt Center director. “Many people remarked on Karen’s ability to illustrate what she considers the fundamental elements of leadership with examples from her life experiences. Her presentation was both informative and entertaining.”
Hughes shared her candid and often humorous stories of working with President Bush over the years – from the days when he held no office and had no motorcade to the stressful times of 9/11. She referenced these experiences as examples while explaining the three pillars – or “CEOs” – of leadership.
According to Hughes, the first element of leadership is “clarity.”
“If people know your core values and convictions, it gives them latitude and freedom in which to make decisions and operate on your behalf,” she said. For example, Hughes always felt prepared to respond to reporters’ questions because President Bush made his intentions very clear and consistent. “The speaker’s mantra is ‘tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them’ because a part of achieving clarity is the consistency of repetition,” she said.
The second aspect of leadership, according to Hughes, is “example.”
One of the main examples a leader can set is humility, Hughes said. “Humility allows you to reach out to those who may know more than you, including those who work under you,” she said. “It’s vital for a leader to set the example that he or she encourages honest opinion, welcomes disagreement and expects the truth.”
Hughes also warned students about choosing their supervisors carefully and to be cautious of the example they set because “your boss’ priorities and examples can either support or undermine your own.”
The example President Bush set by making family a first priority ultimately led to Hughes’ decision to leave the White House and go home to Texas to spend more time with her husband and son.
The final element of leadership emphasized by Hughes was “optimism.”
Despite the current tensions in political discourse and policy-making, Hughes stressed the importance of attitude and activism in her lecture. “I hope at the end of the day the American people will show that they are sick of this and it will result in greater activism rather than further cynicism,” she said. “Let’s all work to replace anger with passion.”
In addition to the CEOs of leadership, Hughes discussed the role of women in the political process. Referring to the growing partisanship and lack of civility in politics, Hughes said “we could use Mary
Louise Smith (the first and only woman to chair the Republican National Committee) in D.C. right now.” Smith was known for inspiring others to work together to improve the political process, government and society.
“I think it’s important for women to be involved in the political process because they bring a very different, valuable and practical perspective,” Hughes added.
Hughes concluded her presentation by taking questions from the audience on a variety of topics ranging from her experience within the Bush administration to her opinion about the current state of government. Following the public presentation, more than 100 guests – including Iowa State students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and donors; government officials; and community leaders – attended a luncheon in her honor. Luncheon attendees were able to meet and visit with Hughes. Students also were invited to a special meet-and-greet after the luncheon to speak with Hughes and ask her questions.
“Ambassador Hughes was extremely impressive and down to earth,” said Kristine Roush, a junior in journalism and mass communication and the Catt Center’s public relations intern. “She is definitely a strong role model for acting on your passions and balancing your family life at the same time.”
Hughes is the 24th woman leader to visit Iowa State through the sponsorship of the Smith chair, which was established in 1995 to honor the Iowa native and longtime political and civic leader. The purpose of the chair is to bring nationally known political leaders, scholars and activists to Iowa State to enrich the experiences of students and educate citizens about the role of women in the political process.