Ex-presidential adviser Karen Hughes reflects on politics, ‘CEOs’ of leadership


Jonathan Krueger/Iowa State Daily

Karen Hughes speaks on “Clarity, Example and Optimism” in leadership in the Great Hall. Hughes, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, was named the Mary Louise Smith Chair by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.

Mackensie Moore

A former U.S. presidential counselor gave her audience an optimistic view on leaders in America and even brought a few laughs during her speech as the new Mary Louise Smith Chair for the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.

Karen Hughes was invited to speak about “The CEOs of Leadership: Clarity, Example and Optimism” on Thursday in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.

“When students ask me for advice I say follow your passions, in keeping with your priorities, do what you love and do what you want to do at the time you want to do it,” Hughes said.

After Hughes started out as a journalist and a TV reporter, her career quickly grew as she became a strategic adviser and counselor to President George W. Bush. Hughes credits her career changes for always doing what she wanted.

Working for Bush taught Hughes a lot about leadership and helped her to realize the three aspects that, in her opinion, every leader should have: clarity, example and optimism.

She referenced conversations she had with the president, especially on the topic of clarity. 

Hughes said that to achieve clarity of a message, a leader must have clear communication and follow that through with their actions and to stay consistent.

“Great leaders have clarity, and they share it with their team,” Hughes said.

The second aspect of “The CEOs” is to lead by example. Hughes used timeliness and humility to illustrate this precedent, saying that it sets a larger standard for all, as well as a tone of respect.

“It’s vital for a leader to set the example that he or she encourages honest opinion, welcomes disagreement and expects the truth,” Hughes said.

Last was the topic of optimism. 

Although it is hard to stay optimistic in a polarized time, Hughes said Americans should turn it into action for the greater good of all.

“You can develop clarity; you can harness the power of example and optimism, and I hope you will use them to make a difference in the lives of others,” Hughes said.

Following Hughes’ lecture, she answered of the audience’s questions about her experiences in the White House and how to remain optimistic in a cynical environment.

“I think our politics would be a lot better off if, instead of demonizing our opponents, we tried to look for something good that they were doing,” Hughes said.

Hughes was introduced by ISU President Steven Leath, who spoke of how important lecturers like Hughes are for  a university like Iowa State.

“[Hughes] is adding tremendously to the experience of our students while they’re here,” Leath said, “especially the young women that are here at Iowa State.”

Hughes’ lecture was the 24th lecture sponsored by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics through the Mary Louise Smith Chair in women and politics. 

The Women’s Leadership Series and Committee on Lectures, funded by the Government of the Student Body, were also sponsors of the presentation.