Lessons from Pelosi’s long career in politics

Nancy Pelosi

Outgoing US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, speaks in the House Chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on November 17, 2022.

Photo credit: AFP

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, announced this week that she would be stepping down as the leader of House Democrats after nearly 20 years in that role.

Pelosi is a remarkable and astute female politician who, in her own words, went from being a “homemaker to a House Speaker”. 

At 82, she is hailed as the most powerful Democrat in the United States Congress and, more importantly, the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives. She will be remembered as a powerhouse in American politics, having served under three democratic presidents; President Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama and President Biden. 

Pelosi has been a paragon of effectiveness, having presided over historic legislation in the House of Representatives, including the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). As Speaker, Pelosi was second in line to the US presidency, after the vice president.

Now after a long career in politics, Pelosi is standing down from the role of leading house democrats. In her speech on Thursday, she acknowledged her long and improbable journey to the helm of American politics, noting that “the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus”. The new generation that is being left with the herculean task of filling Pelosi’s shoes has a lot to learn from her. Indeed, lessons that women in leadership could also glean from Pelosi’s meteoric rise – and stay – in power.

Capitol attack 

One of the most powerful lessons we could learn from Pelosi’s career came to light a couple of weeks ago when we saw raw footage of the behind-the-scene events of last year’s Capitol attack. The footage captured the panic and uncertainty in the corridors of the Capitol as the events unfolded in real-time.

However, it was Pelosi’s calm and collected demeanour amidst the panic that stood out for many viewers. Her capacity to think fast on her feet notwithstanding, this was an important lesson on leadership in a time of crisis.

Pelosi’s composure and level-headedness, immediately taking charge in what has now been hailed by Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse as “a striking study in professional composure under outrageous circumstances”, is a good example of how to lead with the head and the heart.

The other lesson we could learn from Pelosi is that it is never too late to start your second or third or fourth or fifth act. Her famous words, ‘from homemaker to House Speaker’, go beyond the poetic rhyme. They are a representation of a profound truth; it is possible to change your life, profession or work, your age notwithstanding. 

In a world where we attach expiry dates on women in the public eye, Pelosi’s longevity is a welcome example that one is never too old or young to pursue one’s dreams. In her twenties and thirties, she was raising a family while devoting her time to public service. 

In her seventies and eighties, she was overseeing historic legislation. Even now at 82, I have a hunch we haven’t heard the last of Pelosi. Godspeed, Mrs Pelosi.

Dr Chege is a media and technology researcher.