Ambassador Wendy Sherman on Courage, Power, and Persistence | Behind The Book


[Alessandra Seiter] In March 2013,
the United States began a series of secret talks with Iran. The opening of these secret talks led to the first high-level contact between US and Iranian leaders in over 30 years and laid the groundwork
for the reinstatement of the P5+1 negotiation team. Composed of the five permanent members of the United Nations
Security Council plus Germany, the P5+1 embarked on a
20-month series of negotiations with Iran between November
2013 and April 2015. What the seven countries
agreed on was a landmark deal. Iran agreed to severely
curtail its nuclear program and subject its facilities to monitoring by the International Atomic
Energy Agency in exchange for relief from nuclear-related
sanctions previously imposed by the US, the European Union,
and the UN Security Council. Though President Donald Trump
announced the US’s withdrawal from the deal in May 2018 and its fate remains in the balance, the joint comprehensive plan of action, otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, remains an impressive showing
of diplomatic negotiations between historically hostile countries. At the head of the US negotiation team was Ambassador Wendy Sherman, who has taken on another leading role as the director of the
Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School. On this episode of Behind The Book, we’ll talk about Professor
Sherman’s new book, “Not for the Faint of Heart: “Lessons in Courage,
Power, and Persistence”. It offers a fascinating
insider’s perspective on creating meaningful change, balancing conflicting interests, and how women can make the most of their hard-won seat at the table. Ambassadors Sherman’s story as a change maker starts in
her home state of Maryland, where she watched her parents
take significant risks to fight for racial
justice in their community. [Alessandra Seiter] So you
actually start the book by talking about your own childhood and that really struck me, the role that your father, in particular, played in Civil Rights. [Wendy Sherman] When I was a teenager, my father went to a Rosh Hashanah service where the rabbi, who was
part of a group of clergymen who were trying to end
discrimination and degradation of African-Americans in Baltimore, had just been arrested a few days earlier for trying to integrate an amusement park. My father was very moved
by that, my mother as well. And my father went to
see the rabbi and said, “What can I do?” My father was in residential
real estate, he sold houses. And the rabbi said, “Well, you’re more powerful than any rabbi “or priest or minister.” [Alessandra Seiter] The
rabbi advised her father to sell houses to anyone, regardless of race, religion,
or any other criteria. He took the rabbi’s advice and within six months had lost 60% of his real estate listings. [Wendy Sherman] Within a few
years, his business was closed, even though he’d added other
services to the business, but not for one moment did my
parents regret what they did. [Alessandra Seiter] This
balancing act between sacrifice and progress would later
inform many aspects of Ambassador Sherman’s career, including at the
negotiating table with Iran. It helped her and her
negotiating team stay focused on their main objective. [Wendy Sherman] One has to define,
before you go in to a negotiation, what will be success? And in the case of the
Iran nuclear negotiation, President Obama said,
“You have to make sure “that Iran can’t obtain a nuclear weapon. “And to do that, you have to
close down all the pathways “to fissile material that’s
necessary for a bomb.” So that was the measure of success. [Alessandra Seiter] An integral
part of achieving this success was Ambassador Sherman’s ability to foster deeply human connections with those across the table from her. Her Iranian counterparts were all men and coming from a
conservative Islamic culture would not permit themselves
to shake her hand. She related this experience to having grown up in an
Orthodox Jewish community, where similar customs prevail. [Wendy Sherman] I took an
occasion on the margins of one of our negotiating rounds to say, “You know, this is not new to me, “I grew up in a Jewish community. “And among Orthodox Jewish men, “they don’t shake my hands either.” Even though we came from
very different places, and we’d continue to come
from very different places and fight vigorously for our
country’s national interests, in that moment we could see each other. I think in most situations in life, when we have interpersonal relations, it’s good to find some common ground because we’re all different. We all come from different backgrounds and from different places. And finding common ground
doesn’t mean you’re gonna solve the problem that’s in front of you. The Iranians didn’t trust
me, I didn’t trust them, I still don’t, they still don’t. But we needed to understand
that we were human beings and that we each did have
places that were the same. [Alessandra Seiter]
Ambassador Sherman developed these strong interpersonal
skills, in part, during her early career as a social worker and community organizer. [Wendy Sherman] So what I say to
people is, “Get a core set of skills,” and for me that core set of skills was in community
organizing and in clinical skills and I only half-joke that those clinical skills
have been very effective with both dictators and
members of congress. But it does help to understand
interpersonal relationships and understand how people think and feel and have different sets of interests. And my community organizing
skill set helped me to be able to see the entire landscape, to try to set an objective and figure out how to work
with a group of people to get to that objective. [Alessandra Seiter] Ambassador
Sherman draws upon this aspect of her personal history, not only to work with her opponents, but to put together a
strong negotiating team. [Wendy Sherman] A lot of students at
Harvard focus on being in the room. I wanna be in the room, that’s where the real action takes place. Well quite frankly, if you haven’t done a lot
of work outside of the room, to develop the policy,
to do your politics, to build a consensus, you’re not going to get to
a successful negotiation. You need a team of players to do that, I had a core team of
15 unbelievable folks. Yes, nuclear physicist,
lawyers, treasury officials, sanctions officials,
Intelligence colleagues, a whole range of people. I believe, in everything
I’ve done in life, that team matters enormously. There has to be a leader of the team, but you lead that team best when you appreciate every
person’s unique value and how all of those pieces
need to come together to get to success. [Alessandra Seiter] During her
time at the US State Department, Ambassador Sherman not
only built solidarity within her negotiating team, but among women in the Situation Room. In the book, she shares
an anecdote about how she and other women in the
Obama administration would find themselves
having their ideas repeated by their male colleagues in meetings, as if those colleagues had
provided fresh insight. When this happened, she and her women colleagues
would thank the speaker for having reinforced an idea
that a woman already offered. [Wendy Sherman] And sometimes that
got it and were a little chagrined and their consciousness
maybe was raised a tiny bit, sometimes they didn’t get it. But it was important for
us to reaffirm each other. [Alessandra Seiter] In the Situation
Room and throughout her career, Ambassador Sherman has
tried to encourage herself and the women around her to become more comfortable
in their own power. [Wendy Sherman] When I
sit at a negotiating table for the United States of America, I’m less Wendy Sherman, less a woman, less, in my case, a Jewish-American woman. I am the United States of America and that is a pretty powerful role. And if I can own that role, then I bring a lot of power to that table that I should make use of. You know, we often, and I
think women in particular, sometimes think power is an icky thing, to use a very sophisticated word, but it’s not in and of itself. We have power that comes with
every role we have in life. The trick is to use it
for good, not for bad. The way to best use it is to get to those good ends in an open
way and a transparent way, in a just and principled way. [Alessandra Seiter]
From head of Maryland’s Child Welfare department to chief of staff and campaign manager for Senator Barbara Mikulski to the lead negotiator of the
historic Iran nuclear deal, and now to the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, Ambassador Sherman has followed
an unconventional path. And this is what she wishes
for young people as well. [Wendy Sherman] What I
want them to understand is that nothing really
fantastic happens in life without taking some risks. You learns from risks. Scientists will tell you that failure is how they make scientific breakthroughs. And so what I want students
to really understand is that the greatest
opportunities have come to me that were completely unexpected
and I took my core skillset and applied it to that new challenge. I wasn’t always successful,
I had some failures. I’ve gotten to do extraordinary things, but I think it’s in part because, like my parents, I was
willing to take those risks and see what happened. [Alessandra Seiter] The book
is “Not for the Faint of Heart: “Lessons in Courage,
Power, and Persistence,” written by Center for
Public Leadership director and professor of the practice
of public leadership, Ambassador Wendy Sherman. It is published by PublicAffairs. This has been Behind the Book, a production of Library
and Knowledge Services at Harvard Kennedy School. Special thanks to the Hauser Studio. Find past and future
episodes of Behind the Book by subscribing to Harvard
Kennedy School on YouTube, following us on Twitter @hkslibrary, and visiting our website.

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