My Stand and Deliver series features women who lead through inspiration and aspiration. Today’s article highlights the impact of individuals who help preserve and defend our freedom.
I chose to interview Tracy Schandler Walder because she has served on the front lines of the fight to preserve democracy and the American dream. Following graduation from the University of Southern California, Tracy served as a covert operative in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which included travel to Afghanistan, Algeria, Uzbekistan, and other hot spots while assuming aliases and thwarting terrorist attacks. She left the Agency to become a Special Agent at the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office specializing in Chinese counterintelligence operations.
Most recently, her titles have included mother, teacher, adjunct professor, and bestselling author. Tracy’s goal is to encourage, educate, and energize the next generation of leaders–especially young women–who are stepping onto the path she helped lay through engagement in civil society, law enforcement, and government service.
Tracy, please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your career and what excites you about your current stage of life.
I served on the operations side of the CIA in the Counterterrorism Center before, during, and after 9/11.  My job was to track members of Al-Qaeda who were trying to procure weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—things like toxins and poisons. My job was to gather as much human intelligence as possible to try to stop biological attacks. After that, I became a Special Agent at the FBI, where I was assigned to the Chinese counterintelligence squad. Because I was in a small office, I also had the opportunity to work in gangs and hate crimes. 
I am now a teacher. Though I have had impactful jobs, being a teacher has been by far the most impactful one. I have made it my mission to change the gender narrative in national security and foreign policy and feel like I have had the best opportunity to do that in the high school and college classroom. 
Standing for Freedom: Former CIA officer and FBI Special Agent
Tell us about what’s unique about you, your personal history, and your brand.
I am the first woman to have served in an operational capacity in both the CIA and FBI, also the first Jewish woman.  Another unique facet of me is that I was born with a developmental disability that I still have. Hypotonia (aka “floppy baby syndrome”) kept me from walking until the age of three and my muscles will always be underdeveloped as a result, no matter how much I work out. I was told I would never be athletic or have a physically demanding career, but I worked incredibly hard and passed the PT portions with no problem at the FBI.
What are the three top tips you have for a woman trying to assert her influence and ideas?  
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How do you help unleash leadership at all levels?
I am a quiet observer/silent leader and have always been so. Leadership doesn’t need to be loud.  I take those observations and use them to genuinely propel people to success. My open-mindedness allows me to see the potential in everyone and to collaborate across the board.
Tell our readers about a major transition in your life and what you learned from the process?
The biggest transition for me was leaving the FBI and going back to school to obtain my master’s in education. I had been in government work for a bit, and life was very much predictable but frenetic. I received so many negative questions/comments about why I would resign from such an elite agency like the FBI to “only” be a teacher. But this was my passion and true calling. What I learned is that your path doesn’t need to make sense to everyone, and each prior job that I had made me the teacher that I am today. The CIA taught me what I want to teach, and the FBI taught me who I want to teach.
 Who inspires you today and why?
My students. Watching them blaze a trail for themselves and create their own paths from what they learned in my classes is truly one of the most inspirational things I can think of.
 How do you want to be remembered?
I would want to be remembered as tenacious, empathetic, and open-minded.

My Key Takeaways

What strikes me the most about Tracy is her self-confidence in selectively defining her path forward at the various stages of her life. She continues to weigh her options and identify her goals, determining the steps required to execute the objectives to which she has committed within the framework of the life she wants to live. 
A critical fact that sets Tracy and her career decisions apart is that she took a lifetime pledge to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies. Those of us who have taken this pledge recognize that unlike an employment agreement, the oath of office is a lifelong commitment to our nation to preserve freedom and democracy. It is our commitment to you, our fellow citizens.
Tracy’s career decisions may appear random to others, but I view them differently. Tracy is an individual filling a critical national need, leveraging the value of her abilities to serve her country for the greatest good. 
Because of this, my favorite Tracy quote is:
“I have made it my mission to change the gender narrative in national security and foreign policy and feel like I have had the best opportunity to do that in the high school and college classroom.”
The United States is facing geopolitical critical unrest in a time period during which law enforcement and the national security sectors are suffering declines in recruitment. Our government institutions require a diversity of perspective that can only be achieved by recruiting and integrating women into the national security structure. Retired national security and law enforcement professionals like Tracy are best positioned to provide other women with the tools, encouragement, and confidence to see themselves making an impact in these fields. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Be yourself—, not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” 
We thank Tracy for her service and her courage in charting a course that is opening the door for the next generation of leaders.  To read more about her amazing career, buy a copy of her book, The Unexpected Spy.
What lessons did you learn from Tracy’s interview? Let me know what inspired you by  connecting with me on Instagram or LinkedIn. You can also sign up for my newsletter and buy my book, Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South, at


Lisa Gable