About the Author
Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman is a professor of the practice of public leadership and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. In addition, she is a senior fellow at the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Ambassador Sherman is senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group and former U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs.
She serves on the boards of the International Crisis Group and the Atlantic Council, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Aspen Strategy Group. Ambassador Sherman led the U.S. negotiating team that reached agreement on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran for which, among other diplomatic accomplishments, she was awarded the National Security Medal by President Barack Obama. Prior to her service at the Department of State, she was vice chair and founding partner of the Albright Stonebridge Group, counselor of the Department of State under Secretary Madeleine Albright and special advisor to president Clinton and policy coordinator on North Korea, and assistant secretary for legislative affairs under Secretary Warren Christopher.
Ambassador Sherman, with a Masters in Social Work, began her career as director of child Welfare for the State of Maryland. Later, she managed Senator Barbara Mikulski’s successful campaign for the U.S. Senate, served as director of EMILY’s List and ran Campaign ’88 at the Democratic National Committee for the Dukakis presidential campaign. She served on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, was chair of the Board of Directors of Oxfam America and served on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board and Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism. Ambassador Sherman is the author of Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power and Persistence published by PublicAffairs, September 2018.
Distinguished diplomat Ambassador Wendy Sherman brings readers inside the negotiating room to show how to put diplomatic values like courage, power, and persistence to work in their own lives.
Few people have sat across from the Iranians and the North Koreans at the negotiating table. Wendy Sherman has done both. During her time as the lead US negotiator of the historic Iran nuclear deal and throughout her distinguished career, Wendy Sherman has amassed tremendous expertise in the most pressing foreign policy issues of our time. Throughout her life-from growing up in civil-rights-era Baltimore, to stints as a social worker, campaign manager, and business owner, to advising multiple presidents-she has relied on values that have shaped her approach to work and leadership: authenticity, effective use of power and persistence, acceptance of change, and commitment to the team.
Not for the Faint of Heart takes readers inside the world of international diplomacy and into the mind of one of our most effective negotiators-often the only woman in the room. She shows why good work in her field is so hard to do, and how we can learn to apply core skills of diplomacy to the challenges in our own lives.
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[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.
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.