“It’s not like you win a battle and it’s over, kick up your feet, and now you’re in a utopia. This is a constantly-evolving effort, that we are trying to make America more perfect.”–Mieke Eoyang


Mieke Eoyang, vice president of national security at Third Way, and Norman Sandridge (classics professor at Howard University, fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies) talk about the experience of being a woman leader in a field that is traditionally populated with men. They discuss the works of art and the recognition from others that helped Mieke see herself as a leader. They explore how she understands and promotes such values as opportunity, freedom, and security. Finally, they wrestle with the challenges that Americans face in caring more about the truth and in coming to trust one another more. Click to play the entire conversation or click on individual questions below.


  • What kind of leadership work does Mieke do as a vice president in national security at the Third Way? (00:01:35)
  • What are the leadership activities that Mieke engages in, to help legislators talk to their constituents most effectively about issues of national security? (00:03:20)
  • What is an example of a problem in cybersecurity that Mieke has attempted to discuss in a way that has broad appeal to many members of the democratic party? (00:05:20)
  • When advocating for a more active role from the United States in cybersecurity, how does a leader overcome fears about bigger, more invasive government? (00:08:15)
  • How do you talk to people when they have an extreme sense of fear and panic? (00:11:05)
  • What role does art play in making us a less (irrationally) fearful people? (00:12:52)
  • How did Mieke grow into her own leadership role? (00:12:24)
  • Does Mieke use the word “leader” to think about herself? (00:18:44)
  • Were there works of literature or parts of Mieke’s education at Wellesley that helped her see herself as a leader? (00:25:26)
  • Is there something about a man’s face that instinctively makes people less afraid? (00:31:20)
  • What paths forward does Mieke see to overcoming the deep political and cultural divisions in our country? How does Mieke understand the meaning of the three values of Third Way, namely, freedom, opportunity, and security? (00:39:30)
  • How does Mieke distinguish “opportunity” from “freedom” as American values? (00:45:20)
  • How can leaders get people to care more about the truth (as a path to common ground)? (00:47:32)
  • How do we get Americans to have more concern for their fellow citizens, including those in the rest of the world? How do we come to trust each other more? (00:55:45)
  • Mieke’s final question about leadership: “How does one deal with one’s own ego in the context of leadership?” How do you keep from over-inflating or under-inflating your ego? How do you practice “know thyself” as a leader? (01:02:30)

Key Insights

  • “A lot of times what might be the best outcome in national security is not the most popular outcome in national security. So, helping members of congress…think about how to talk about national security issues in the context of what resonates with the people  is a lot of the work that we do.”
  • The internet is fundamentally an American space. The US should consider its responsibility to protect people on the internet from bad actors, much the same way that the British through their hegemony in the 18th century protected the seas from pirates.
  • Emotional intelligence is very important when talking with the American people about terrorism, particularly in understanding how people react to terrorist attacks.
  • When people are afraid, they look for overbroad solutions in national security.
  • “Fear has very warping effects on the psyche of the American populace.”–Mieke
  • You may come to recognize yourself as a leader when others first call it to your attention.
  • “There are these moments along the way where you realize you’re not just engaging with the substance. You’re also in this position where people look to you.”–Mieke
  • Americans have narrowly constructed ideas of what a leader should look like.
  • It’s hard to find in the classical canon images of women other than the sidekick, the mother, the love-interest, the betrayer.
  • A single sex education can help a woman reframe her ideas of what a leader should look like.
  • A lot of the terms we use to describe a leader (tough, strong, tall) are gendered terms.
  • The lack of opportunities for women to serve in combat historically has been an impediment to women overcoming perceptions about their strength and sacrifice in a political leadership role.
  • Excluding groups of people from participation in the military creates a bias against them serving in political life.
  • “It’s hard to not accept people when they are willing to serve [in the military].”–Mieke
  • Leadership roles are not always gendered. Women are not automatically softer or more emotional.
  • Truth is potent. There will always be ways to get a message out.
  • Leaders must continually re-evaluate their assumptions about what they believe is true.
  • It’s important to recognize that we don’t all have the complete truth.
  • American government is an experiment. You have to have a feedback loop based on fact and result. “It’s not like you win a battle and it’s over, kick up your feet, and now you’re in a utopia. This is a constantly-evolving effort, that we are trying to make America more perfect.”–Mieke
  • “The beauty of America and the length of the experiment is that we adjust.”–Mieke

Works Referenced

Marvel Comics: X-Men (esp. Storm)

Black Panther

Plato’s Republic

Madame Secretary

Battlestar Galactica (esp. President Roslin)

Firefly, Serenity

Further Reading

Read more about Third Way: https://www.thirdway.org/

You may follow Mieke on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MiekeEoyang

Read Mieke’s recent work on the Lawfare Blog: https://www.lawfareblog.com/contributors/meoyang

Read more about the evolutionary psychological approach to human responses to faces (and genders) of leadership under certain scenarios in Mark Van Vugt and Allen Grabo’s article “The Faces of Leadership: An Evolutionary-Psychology Approach”


Watch this recent political campaign ad from MJ Hegar, who is running for US representative from Texas’ 31st district as a military veteran: