At the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit last week, I was standing in the green room with Karen Hughes, once a top adviser to President George W. Bush and now vice-chair at PR giant Burson-Marsteller. "So many of the lessons that the business leaders are talking about here are applicable to Washington," Hughes said to me, reciting quotes from the on-stage interviews with CEOs such as IBM's Ginny Rometty and Xerox's Ursula Burns. I couldn't resist asking Hughes to write a piece for us. She wrote it on her flight home from California to Texas. Turns out, it's wise advice for leaders in business and politics alike.
by Ambassador Karen Hughes, Worldwide Vice Chair, Burson-Marsteller
In my work as a strategic communications adviser to business leaders, I frequently apply the lessons of politics to today's corporate environment. The most fundamental rule of the political process – that candidates have to define themselves or their opponents will define them – increasingly applies to companies, as everyone from activist groups to customers to competitors chime in to share stories that help define or undermine brands.
But during last week's Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, I found myself wishing today's political leaders would take more heed of some of the lessons shared at this conference by some of the leading women in business.
1. Find shared strategic beliefs. With the world changing so quickly, companies have to focus on "strategic beliefs" and align everyone toward those beliefs, rather than be too prescriptive, said Ginni Rometty, chairman and CEO of IBM (IBM). You have to agree on big directional arcs, and then allow people to have a say and contribute ideas to achieve them, she explained.
I suspect if leaders of both political parties focused on a shared set of "strategic beliefs" for our country, it might help them find more common ground. As one example, leaders in both parties want to preserve Medicare for future generations of seniors. Accepting that as a fundamental obligation of our country, a "strategic belief" might allow a more honest discussion of how we can come together as a nation to shore up Medicare's finances and make it stronger for the long run.
2. Practice impatience. "Impatience is a virtue," said Ursula Burns, chairman and CEO, Xerox (XRX). "If you settle in" and do only what previous leaders did, "you'll be run over by change." You have to set an aspirational path and be "impatient to achieve it," Burns said.
Imagine if Congress were "impatient to achieve" immigration reform, or more trade agreements, or a solution to the fiscal cliff--or even a budget? Polls show people have overwhelmingly negative opinions about Congress. Greater urgency and actual action might go a long way toward making the American people improve their view of Congress.
3. Play like a team. During a discussion of the many ways that playing sports can help prepare leaders, Ellen Kullman, Chair and CEO of DuPont (DD) made the point that "in sports, you have to play with other people on the team whether you like them or not. You learn to work together… to get the job done."
If ever there were a lesson that both sides of the aisle and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue need to take to heart, that is it. In my company and in businesses across America, Republicans and Democrats work together and get the job done. In fact, diversity of opinion and approach is viewed as valuable in helping shape solutions. It's time for Washington to adopt that attitude and approach.
4. Get real. The explosion of social media and other communication channels requires today's companies to be "authentic, transparent and human," said Wendy Clark, Senior Vice President of The Coca-Cola Company (KO). To be successful, companies can no longer just provide a two-sentence corporate line. They have to answer complaints, tell good stories, celebrate the community and put their customers and fans first.
Washington needs a dose of that reality. Americans are tired of sound bites and pat solutions. Voters are smart and know the problems are hard. They want leaders to be more transparent and real, to admit their mistakes and put the interests of the people ahead of their narrow political interests.
5. Finally, Washington needs to hear a lesson that Ginni Rometty said she learned from her mom. "Nothing is insurmountable."
The worlds of business and politics have much to learn from each other. I hope some in Washington are listening.
The Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit packed in famous names and exclusive interviews on Tuesday.
IBM (IBM) CEO Ginni Rometty, No. 1 on the 2012 Most Powerful Women list, did her first interview since taking the CEO job in January.
Kraft Foods CEO Irene Rosenfeld talked strategy on the day she split her business into two new companies.
Former Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz gave advice to new chief Marissa Mayer on reviving the MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 3, 2012 8:48 AM ET
Looking back on 15 Most Powerful Women lists and the shifting definition of "power."
FORTUNE -- Here is what I learned from being present at the creation of Fortune Most Powerful Women in 1998 and helping to produce the annual MPW list 15 times.
Power is what you make it.
And Power, in the minds of the Fortune MPW, has changed greatly.
Let me explain, by taking you back to MPW's beginnings. MPW started, MOREPatricia Sellers - Sep 20, 2012 6:15 AM ET
A year ago, I began my first day at Fortune magazine. A bundle of ambition with no direction, I wondered if I would sink or swim. During my first morning meeting, I was sandwiched between two writers discussing derivatives over coffee. I seriously questioned my own intelligence.
Within two weeks, my sea legs finally took. The Fortune Most Powerful Women brand -- and the editors behind it -- pushed me to MOREColleen Leahey, Reporter - Jul 3, 2012 10:22 AM ET
Ginni Rometty is the next CEO of IBM, the company announced this afternoon.
With that news comes a stunning stat: America's two largest tech companies will be headed by women.
Meg Whitman, who built eBay (EBAY), became CEO of Hewlett-Packard last month.
H-P (HPQ) is No. 11 on the Fortune 500. IBM (IBM) is No. 18.
Both women spoke at the recent Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. Rometty's main message (and one that Whitman MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 25, 2011 5:41 PM ET
What happens when influential women like Meg Whitman, Ellen Kullman - and a guy: Warren Buffett - get together? They share smart ideas and - forge unexpected new relationships.
FORTUNE -- Big topics -- the global economy, presidential politics, boardroom drama -- got plenty of airtime at Fortune's annual Most Powerful Women Summit in early October. Meg Whitman (No. 9), the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), outlined plans for calming the waters at MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 25, 2011 5:00 AM ET
IBM's Ginni Rometty
Ginni Rometty, the woman who may well be the next CEO of IBM (IBM), dodged the question about her next career turn in this morning's interview at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. But no matter, she eagerly tossed out tips that she has used to get very, very close to the top. Here's Rometty's best advice:
1. "Growth and comfort do not coexist," says SVP Rometty, who is No. 7 MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 5, 2011 12:30 PM ET
The 2011 Fortune Most Powerful Women list will be announced on September 29. Meantime, a few stars on the 2010 MPW list are on Fortune's Executive Dream Team--a fantasy all-star lineup of managers, selected by Fortune editors with assists from recruiters and other business know-it-alls.
I use the term know-it-all with endearment because the selections, revealed today, are good. The non-executive chair of choice: Anne Mulcahy, the former CEO of Xerox MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 22, 2011 3:55 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Now that's a subject that most leaders would be wise to pay more attention to.
One boss who does: Ginny Rometty at IBM (IBM).
And to her benefit. Currently in charge of sales and marketing and strategy at Big Blue--and No. 8 on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list--Rometty is mentioned in Fortune's current cover story about IBM as a possible successor to CEO Sam Palmisano.
Recently Rometty spoke about culture at the Yale CEO MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 10, 2011 11:11 AM ET
Last week's Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit was teeming with experts. They offered points and opinions on so many topics, with data to back it all up. Here, some of our favorite stats:
1. The No. 1 quality that successful business leaders have in common is that they started a business at a young age. --Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB) (Click for video of Summit interview with Buffett.)
2. MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Sep 25, 2009 1:01 PM ET
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