MS: I realized I have been fortunate to interview a lot of women “firsts”: Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, and now you, the first female Speaker of the House. As a a trailblazer — what specific, unique advice would you have in terms of breaking through barriers and obstacles, or as you said, glass or “marble” ceilings?
NP: Well, you’ve named two wonderful people — Sandra Day O’Connor is so respected in our country, Madeleine Albright as well. Mine was a little different in that I had to be elected to it. And so it was always about competition and a fight in that regard.
But I always say to people — know why you’re there. What is your vision? What do you hope to achieve with all of this? What is your vision, what do you know about the subject? Be equipped with knowledge so that gives you good judgment. Understand your strategic plan for how you want to get something done. And if you have a vision, knowledge of what should be done, and a plan, and a path for achievement, you will attract — which is the fourth part of it — you will be able to attract support for what you are doing. It is a more emotional thing, at that level, the attraction level — the others are more intellectual. But I just say, be clear, be clear about your priorities, understand what you are talking about. And that has to come through. Have a plan and you will get support, I guarantee it.
MS: Without making generalizations, what unique qualities do you think women can bring to leadership that you think is most needed in the world now?
NP: I can say this without any doubt [laughs] — I have no hesitation — women bring a consensus building attitude that is not always present at the table. When I first became Speaker, people would come to me and say, ‘Do you know how different this meeting would have been if a man had been running it?’ We build consensus, we don’t dictate policy.
Secondly, I really do believe that women have an intuitive sense, which is very important in leadership. Sure, we all are deductive and learn from this and learn from that — but if you have a vision, and you have knowledge, and you have a plan — you know what decision you need to make intuitively. And that confidence is contagious. If you act in that decisive a way, people will have confidence in you. And they’ll follow your lead. And if they don’t, then you have a different path, but you will not have your possibilities diminished because you waited too long to make your judgment about what the consensus is in your groups, consistent with our values, based on knowledge and values and part of a plan to get the job done.
MS: Right now, people are mostly focused on what’s going on with their own lives — such as the economy — and in your speech you talked about the role of women’s innovation and the growth of women owned businesses — do you think we are getting to a point where these aren’t just seen as “women’s issues” — where people see the interconnection of empowering women with other issues?
NP: Oh, absolutely. And the thing is that we don’t want women just to become involved to do so-called “women’s issues” — the defense of our country, the economy of our nation, the global prosperity — these are all women’s issues.
MS: Looking out at the world right now, it can feel so daunting all the problems we face, and people are very overwhelmed in their own lives and may feel like nothing they do can make a difference. What would you say to that person?
NP: There is no question that people can make a difference. And sometimes when things are as troubled as they are now, there’s even more opportunity to make a difference, and certainly more responsibility to be engaged.
MS: Right now people can feel very hopeless and despondent with what is going on in the world. What keeps you hopeful and gives you faith?
NP: Well, because it’s urgent. You cannot surrender to that. But you know what? There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful, because people are engaged. They are paying attention. And that gives us an opportunity to make the choice — the distinctions and the choices that are there.
MS: What is your vision or wish for the future?
NP: My vision for the future always centers around our children — it always centers around our children. So anytime anybody asks me what are the three most important issues facing the Congress, I always say the same thing: our children, our children, our children. Their health, their education, the economic security of their families, the safety of the neighborhoods in which they live, a world at peace in which they can thrive. So that is what my motivation is. I always saw politics as an expansion of my role as a mom.
MS: I have two daughters, ages ten and thirteen. I think about young girls today who can often lose touch with what you are talking about, their power and their own inner voice and intuition. What advice would you most want to offer to young girls?
NP: I would say that one of the things that encouraged me so much when I became elected to the leadership was the letters I received from fathers of daughters, saying that my daughter can now do many more things because of what you did. And that was the best thing I could ever hear. I think with these young girls these days — they’re raised — you’re raising them in a different way than certainly I was raised. And I don’t know how you were raised because you’re in between us — but they have to have the confidence that they can do anything. And they can just reach for the stars. Go for it! Swing for the fences. They may end up someplace between here and the fences, but they’ll end up a long way down the road. So I say it again — know your power, respect what is inside of you and value it, and be ready for the opportunity that comes along.
This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post.