The Career Changing Magic of Strategic Compartmentalization | Summary and Q&A

January 27, 2020
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The Career Changing Magic of Strategic Compartmentalization


Susan Rice shares her experiences as a leader in national security and diplomacy, discussing the importance of self-confidence, integrity, and compassion.

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Key Insights

  • ❓ Confidence, integrity, and compassion are crucial traits for leaders.
  • ðŸ‘Ļ‍💞 A revolution of patriotism is needed in the business and tech sectors to recognize and address the intelligence collection threats posed by China.
  • 🌍 Collaboration and understanding between the private sector and government are essential for national competitiveness.
  • ⌛ Leaders should prioritize self-care, including sleep, exercise, and spending time with loved ones.
  • ðŸŦĄ Being respected is more important than being liked as a leader.
  • ðŸĪŠ A challenging upbringing can teach valuable lessons in resilience and the ability to take hits and keep going.
  • ✋ The ability to compartmentalize is important in high-pressure situations to maintain focus and effectiveness.


Susan it's so great to see you again here in LA and this time I get to share you with this audience which I'm really excited about you've had such an incredible life and you've been in so many rooms and situations that really very few of us even in this rarefied room will ever really get to experience aside from being Obama's national security advi... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Susan Rice overcome traits like impatience and brashness in her rise in government?

Rice acknowledges that while certain characteristics were beneficial, she learned the hard way that she needed to adjust some of her traits to be better suited to her environment. Mentors played a significant role in helping her soften these characteristics and become a more patient and collaborative leader.

Q: Who was the most impactful mentor in Susan Rice's career?

The most impactful mentor for Rice was a former member of Congress named Howard Wolpe. He took her out to lunch and delivered some tough love, telling her that she would fail in her job if she didn't change course. His guidance helped her become a more inclusive and collaborative leader.

Q: What lessons did Susan Rice learn from her parents?

Rice's parents instilled in her a commitment to education, service, and self-belief. They taught her to not let others define her worth and to believe in herself, despite the challenges she faced.

Q: How did Susan Rice's parents' divorce shape her as a leader?

Rice explains that her parents' divorce was a challenging experience, but it taught her resilience and the ability to keep going even in difficult circumstances. It gave her confidence in her own ability to handle crisis situations.


In this video, Susan Rice, former national security adviser and U.S. ambassador, shares insights from her memoir "Tough Love." She discusses her personal journey, the lessons she learned from her parents, her experiences in leadership roles, and the challenges of working in the current geopolitical landscape. Rice also addresses the importance of cybersecurity and the need for collaboration between the government and tech sector to address the threat of intelligence collection by China.

Questions & Answers

Q: Were the qualities of being smart, dynamic, and decisive a bug or a feature as you rose through the ranks of the government?

Rice believes that at age 32, she had a mix of qualities that were both a feature and a bug. While her strong preparation and drive were beneficial, her impatience and brassiness were not well-suited to her environment at the time. Rice had to adjust these characteristics to become a more patient and inclusive leader.

Q: Can you share an example of a mentor who helped you overcome some of these characteristics?

Rice recalls an impactful experience with a colleague named Howard Wolpe, who took her out to lunch and advised her to change her approach. He highlighted her lack of deference, appreciation of expertise, and failure to invest in her team's outcomes. This advice helped Rice become a more patient and collaborative leader.

Q: How did your parents' accomplishments influence your own journey?

Rice's parents instilled in her a commitment to education and service. Her father, a descendant of slaves and a Tuskegee Airman, emphasized the importance of belief in oneself and not allowing others to define or discount one's worth. Her mother, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, taught her the value of perseverance and not letting external challenges define her.

Q: What lessons did you take from your parents' divorce?

Rice learned the importance of resilience and not being weighed down by circumstances beyond one's control. Despite her parents' divorce and the ensuing custody battle, she focused on aspects of her life that she could control, such as performing well in school, repairing friendships, and engaging in extracurricular activities.

Q: How do you manage a robust professional career and personal life?

Rice emphasizes the importance of self-care, including sufficient sleep, exercise, and time spent with loved ones. She also credits her supportive husband, who shares the responsibilities of raising their children and caring for aging parents. Prioritizing physical and mental health and cherishing time with family and friends help her maintain balance.

Q: What traits are essential to being a powerful person?

Rice believes that confidence, integrity, strength, and compassion are key traits for powerful individuals. Being powerful does not mean being hard or focused solely on being liked. Instead, it involves being respected, leading with inspiration, and valuing individuals on one's team. Effective leadership requires empowering others and recognizing their worth.

Q: Can you share the story about giving the middle finger to Ambassador Holbrooke in front of a roomful of diplomats?

Rice recounts an incident involving Richard Holbrooke, who expressed dislike toward her due to her surpassing his record as the youngest regional Assistant Secretary of State. During a heated argument in a meeting, Holbrooke made a condescending comment about her rank, and words failed Rice, leading her to display her dismay through a gesture. Although it became an urban legend, Rice learned the importance of standing up against bullying and not taking disrespect.

Q: Do you agree with the statement that China poses a severe intelligence collection threat to the United States?

Rice strongly agrees with the statement. China uses human assets and cyber tools to steal intellectual property and exfiltrate data. Their objective is to compete economically, geo-strategically, and technologically with the U.S. Recognizing the severity of this threat, Rice advocates for a revolution of patriotism in business and the tech sector. Collaboration between the private sector, academia, and government is crucial to counter China's actions.

Q: How can industry leaders grapple with the threat of Chinese intelligence collection?

Rice advises industry leaders to be aware of the threat and work hard to prevent it. Hardening cybersecurity and being cautious of sharing information or providing access when dealing with China are essential. Rice highlights the need for a revolution in patriotism, urging industry leaders to prioritize national interests and recognize the competition with China.

Q: How can collaboration between the government and tech sector be achieved?

Rice suggests institutionalizing a sustained exchange between the private sector and government, facilitating understanding and respect between these groups. She believes that there is a need to rebuild the historical triumvirate of academia, private sector, and government to effectively compete against China. Collaboration should be based on shared values and goals, acknowledging that the private sector and government are on the same team.

Q: What voice do you bring to the boardroom as a member of Netflix's board?

Rice brings her deep knowledge and understanding of the international landscape to Netflix, a company that is expanding globally. Her experiences in crisis management and leadership roles contribute to discussions about navigating international challenges. Rice emphasizes the need to balance global expansion with protecting national interests.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Susan Rice reflects on her early career and how traits like being driven and decisive were both beneficial and detrimental in her rise in government.

  • She acknowledges the influence of mentors who helped her overcome certain characteristics and become a more patient and collaborative leader.

  • Rice discusses the impact of her parents' backgrounds and their emphasis on education, service, and self-belief in shaping her own journey as a leader.

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