Ambassador Nikki Haley was confirmed on January 24, 2017 as the 29th United States ambassador to the United Nations. What makes Haley such an unusual and appealing choice is her sense of independence. For instance, her repeated criticism of President Trump during the campaign (she supported Marco Rubio) and in her State of the Union speech, "some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference...that is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume." During her early tenure as Ambassador, she has been a voice for democracy and freedom, calling for a fresh look at how the world treats its immigrants, minorities, women and children. 

I had the chance to interview Ambassador Haley just three days before her nomination. She spoke to me about the role of women in leadership, her passionate belief in the power of listening, and the need to restore confidence in times of tragedy. Here are a few of the topics from our interview which you can watch in its entirety by clicking on the image below: 

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Governor Haley: I am my parents. Every ounce of what I do and why I do it is what my parents taught me. They always said, “If you’re going to do something, be great at it, and make sure that people remember you for it.” They’re in my ear, all the time.

Politics and women

We need to see more women in politics, and women are very good at it because we know how to balance things. I think women make fantastic elected officials. If we are serious about having more women in the political sphere, the inclusiveness lesson is you can’t just go out to your own circle, but work with different groups of people, go where they go, and listen to them. When we listen, we find out we have more in common than not.

Staying grounded 

Think about what matters first of all. People don’t have the time to catch up on everything like politicos. What they do keep up with is their wallet, their family budget, paying loans back, the fact that paychecks are not getting any bigger. We need to be listening to everyday people.

Social media

I use it to get my pulse of what people are thinking. What I have found is if there is a vote that I care about it, I put it up on social media that night, “I’m going to let you know how everybody voted.” Through that, people don’t have to watch the news or read the newspaper. All they had to do was look on social media, and they knew whether their legislator or senator did what they were supposed to.

Ethical challenges 

We can never do enough to be transparent and we can never do enough to be ethical. When I was a legislator they didn’t record votes on the record so a legislator could say one thing and do another. We passed a bill that all votes had to be on the record, and every section of the budget had to be recorded, so now everybody can see exactly how their legislators voted. Now you see who pays a legislator, you see why they vote the way they do and it’s a reminder that they need to recuse themselves sometimes.

Handling tragedy

The Mother Emanuel tragedy was one of those things where you couldn’t comprehend. 12 very good people go to church to a Bible study on a Wednesday night, like many South Carolinians do, but on this day, somebody who didn’t look like them and didn’t act like them joined. Instead of calling the police or throwing him out, they sat down and prayed with him for an hour. Nine of those people were murdered that day. I knew my state was going to hurt, and I knew that I had to find a way that people would not rally around what was a hate crime. We didn’t have protests in South Carolina. We didn’t have riots. We had vigils, and we had hugs. We reminded everybody that the best way to get through this is to take care of each other.

Removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Capitol grounds was similarly a decision that had to be made. I hope it was an act of healing. I hope that for the families it was, but I think it also was a time for South Carolinians to look at each other and say, “You know what? Maybe it’s time. Instead of looking at the past, maybe we look at the future.”

Taking action

We had the 1,000-year flood in October. That’s when I asked God to move on in terms of tragedies, a 1,000-year flood. If you could imagine 24 inches in 24 hours. It was literally waking up to a state underwater. You look at that, and it’s a time where you have to make things happen, and you have to respond to them in a way that is calm but is immediately taking action so that they feel like they’re going to be okay.

Leading vs. politics 

During those times, I was a mom. I was a daughter. I was a sister. All I wanted was to protect the people of South Carolina the best way I could, but being a politician was the furthest thing from my mind. Protecting the people of South Carolina was all I thought about.

Fighting bureaucracy

It was the most un-American thing I had ever seen when you tell a business they can’t employ people. So I did what I do well, which is I got loud and didn’t just get loud in the state. I got loud across the country and said, “We can’t have this.” We were fighting for 1,000 jobs at a time that we needed it. The rest of the country joined us, and those thousand non-union jobs are 8,000 non-union jobs today.

Loving obstruction

It’s a discipline that you pick and choose your battles, and it’s discipline that you make sure that whatever you do, think about everyone as you do it, not just who you’re fighting with, and not just what you’re trying to do, but everybody. The goal is to lift everyone up, and if it’s something you’re trying to get the public to go along with, you educate them on it.

Looking in the mirror

When I got the call from Senator McConnell, as well as Speaker Ryan, I was expecting a policy conversation. Then they said, “We’d like for you to give the rebuttal.” I said, “You can’t compete with the President.” I finally offered, “I’ll do the speech if it’s not a response to the President and I want to be able to say what I want to say.” I never saw it as a response. What I saw was my chance to talk to the country, and what I saw was my chance to talk to my fellow Republicans and say, “You know what? It’s time to look in the mirror. We can’t keep blaming everything on the Democrats.”

Pushing through fear

Push through the fear. Push through the fear because we all have that voice that says, “Maybe I shouldn’t.” Women, especially, second-guess themselves. Push through the fear because when you do, you will find out you’re so much stronger on the other side.


Author’s Bio

Jeff Cunningham is an advocate for enlightened global leadership, which he calls the most valuable natural resource in the world.

He is a Professor at ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and was the former publisher of Forbes Magazine, startup founder, digital content CEO, and ran an internet venture capital fund.

He travels the globe in search of iconic leaders. As an interviewer/host, he created a YouTube interview series, Iconic Voices, now co-produced by @Thunderbird, featuring mega moguls from Warren Buffett to Jeff Immelt. His articles have been published by the Arizona Republic and are posted to LinkedIn, Medium, and

His career experience includes publisher of Forbes Magazine; founder of Directorship Magazine; CEO of Zip2 (founded by Elon Musk),, and; venture partner with Schroders. He serves as a trustee of the McCain Institute and previously as a trustee of CSIS and Middle East Institute, and as an advisor to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

He has also been a board director of 10 public companies.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Thunderbird School of Global Management or Arizona State University as a whole.