Mentoring, Women in Leadership

How Madeleine Albright’s Father Mentored Condoleezza Rice

By Mike BergelsonApril 23, 2014

Without her mentor, Condoleezza Rice may never have become Secretary of State in the Bush administration, so it’s no exaggeration to say that her mentor changed the course of history. But who was he? And what can we learn from Rice’s story?

Condoleezza Rice’s Mentor

As a student at the University of Denver, Condoleezza Rice was planning a career in music, helping children appreciate Mozart and Beethoven. Then she met her mentor, a former Czech diplomat called Josef Korbel who was teaching a course on international politics.She took his class, and “It was like love at first sight,” she later said. Inspired by Korbel, she decided to make a radical shift away from music and towards international relations, setting her on the path to becoming the first female African-American Secretary of State.

But Korbel did more than just set her on the path. Rice credits him with a great influence on her ideas and outlook, saying he was “one of the most central figures in my life, next to my parents.”

Even as recently as 2010, she expressed the belief that the optimism of Josef Korbel could lead the world. As a refugee from his Soviet-dominated home country, he always believed strongly in America as a beacon of freedom in the world, and this is something he communicated to his protégé Condoleezza Rice.

A Mentor and a Father

The interesting thing about Korbel is that as well as being Rice’s mentor, he was Madeleine Albright’s father. It seems surprising that he could have influenced two Secretaries of State, from different parties and with very different beliefs.  Each, however, took their own lessons from Korbel, and applied them in their own ways. Albright referred to the U.S. as “the indispensable country” and tried to make it live up to her father’s idea of it as a force for good in the world.

Albright told NPR that her father would have been upset by developments in U.S. foreign policy under Rice and the Bush Administration, particularly the war in Iraq: “It’s ruined America’s reputation. He cared so deeply about America and felt so strongly about what an important source of authority it was.”

But Rice saw herself as honoring Korbel’s belief that all people deserved access to American-style freedom:

“When we’re faced with questions about why you are willing to risk so much on behalf of people in the Middle East, Iraqis or Afghans, it’s hard for me to believe that he would have wanted them abandoned to tyranny.”

Lessons from Condoleezza Rice

  • Mentoring can radically change the course of your career — not because your mentor tells you to do something different, but because he or she inspires you to go in a new direction.
  • A mentor’s opinions and values often stay with a protégé long after the relationship has ended. Korbel died in 1977, but Rice was still deeply influenced by him in her time as Secretary of State.
  • Protégés don’t follow their mentors in every respect. As the very different beliefs of Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice demonstrate, it’s possible for two protégés to take very different lessons from the same mentor.

Could you be mentoring the next Condoleeza Rice? Share your wisdom with rising talent now.

Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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