Dr. Madeline Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, was in Kansas City recently speaking to a sold-out audience at the Women’s Foundation annual luncheon. I knew she’d have a lot of wonderful things to say, but I wasn’t prepared for just how impressive and inspirational she was.
She was polished and natural, comfortable telling her stories and making strong points based on facts (for example: women are an undervalued resource). Her straightforward approach conveyed power, yet she was also charming. Her diplomatic skills were evident, as was her commitment to service.
I had the sense that her commitment was to a service greater than politics. I admire that. I wish it was not so uncommon or old fashioned to see in our government leaders. Taking an oath of office is a commitment to the ideals and principles of democratic governance, by and for the people. It is a commitment to serve the country, and that is a responsibility and a duty that should override any loyalty to a single political faction.
Much of her talk, I realized later, was about her personal journey and the process of developing a voice. She told of the first time she entered a room as the Secretary of State with a roomful of men, and how she planned to spend the meeting listening and absorbing the situation. But when she sat behind the microphone labeled “United States of America,” she realized she MUST speak. She may not have felt ready, but it was her duty and that gave her confidence to act.
She has a famous quote (highlighted in the luncheon program): “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” In her closing, she offered bits of advice, including an encouragement to invest the necessary time to develop your own experience — don’t be obsessed by the clock, she said. And, she invited all to join her in working toward change: “Refuse to be silent — we need every available voice to speak out.”
Her comments reminded me of something Miles Davis said: “You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”
In both, there’s a sense that perfecting a voice takes time and courage.
Thanks to the Women’s Foundation for this extraordinary event.