Former U.S. Ambassador Bushnell Describes How Students Can Become Confident Leaders

Prudence Bushnell
Prudence Bushnell

When Prudence Bushnell, a former U.S. ambassador and CEO of Sage Associates was growing up, there were no female leaders for her to look up to. Those women who did assume a leadership position were often ridiculed or not taken seriously. Despite this lack of role models, Bushnell became a leader for hundreds of Foreign Service workers, and she has served as the dean of the Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute.

She spoke to the Hamilton community on Oct.22 about how students can become confident leaders in all aspects of their lives through the Levitt Leadership Institute, which will hold its second session in spring 2013.

At the start of her lecture, Bushnell asked the audience to pair up so that each person could share a particular dream or goal. The purpose of the assignment was to describe “one thing that I want to do before I die that will make a positive difference in people’s lives and that involves other people to do it.” Jasmine Thomas ’15 explained that she hopes to lessen crime and improve the education system in the Bronx. Other students expressed that they want to push for education reform or help alleviate water issues in South America.

Regardless of what students want to achieve in their lifetimes, Bushnell argued that there is a certain skill set required for leadership that can help unlock the door for students to pursue any these dreams. As the leader of the first Levitt Leadership Institute last semester, she has helped teach these skills to the younger generation, and she will continue to do so with the second Institute in 2013.

Bushnell served as deputy assistant secretary of state of African affairs from 1993 to 1996, ambassador to the Republic of Kenya from 1996 to 1999 and Guatemala from 1999 to 2002. During her time in Kenya, Bushnell realized that the embassy where she was stationed in Nairobi did not meet certain security requirements, and as such was at risk of being attacked. Nairobi was a relatively unstable city, hosting pockets of various extremist groups including Al Qaeda. For years, Bushnell attempted to correct these faults, but the embassy was unable to secure more funding to make significant changes.

On August 7, 1998, Bushnell’s fears were realized, and a terror attack on the Nairobi Embassy killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds more. Bushnell had to utilize all of her leadership capabilities to handle the crisis. She organized her people into teams and had them assess the casualties and account for anybody who was missing.

According to Bushnell, leadership is not about holding any particular position of power; it is about having and utilizing a particular set of skills in order to get people involved and motivated. Bushnell believes that it was because of these skills, such as active listening, taking initiative and prioritizing effectively, that she was able to help pull the Nairobi embassy through an emergency.

Bushnell helped start the Levitt Leadership Institute at Hamilton, which she wishes to use as a tool to help students realize their leadership potential. The Institute is a two week intensive training program for Hamilton students.

Matt Langan ’14, who participated in the first Leadership Institute, regards it as a highly educational and rewarding experience which is as much about self-discovery as it is about external learning. He claims that the Institute not only helped him develop a leadership skill set that is vital in any career field, but he also learned how to effectively follow others, listen actively, and work in a group.

To summarize her lecture Bushnell emphasized “there will never be another you” on this planet, and so she, and the Levitt Leadership Institute, want to help make each individual audience member the best version of him or herself that is possible.

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