[October 25, 2023] Folks in America are quick to judge the ability of leaders to lead based on their politics or their mannerisms rather than their ability. This bias, so inherent in us Americans puts us at a great disadvantage on the international stage where highly intelligent, experienced, and motivated leaders influence our view of the world, and our actions within it. There is one person that I highly respected that helped me be a better leader, and that person was the U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Some will call him names and brush aside his ideas but that would be another mistake and they are put at a serious disadvantage. I see this in the current American White House in the selection of yes-men in significant positions of influence and power. Take for example, Lloyd Austin III, past four-star general, who has been late to the game ever since he was appointed. I have a bias here, to be clear, and that bias is that senior leaders must be highly competent. SECDEF Austin is out of his depth; a judgment based on his lead-from-behind and poor leadership ability.
A few years ago, I wrote an article with a couple of quotes from Rumsfeld (see link here) and how it was crucial to balance competing views or ideologies that can color our perceptions and decision making. We must also balance competing resources, in particular when unpopular but necessary prioritization is important. Rumsfeld has an off-putting and blunt but effective way of carrying out his duties as the SECDEF.
Here are some of my favorite quotes that Rumsfeld made:
“If a prospective Presidential approach can’t be explained clearly enough to be understood well, it probably hasn’t been thought through well enough. If not well understood by the American people, it probably won’t ‘sail’ anyway. Send it back for further thought.” – Donald Rumsfeld\
“Don’t think of yourself as indispensable or infallible. As Charles De Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” – Donald Rumsfeld
And, here are some guidance that he gives to his incoming staff to help them navigate the treacherous waters of senior politics:
“Don’t be a bottleneck. If a matter is not a decision for the President or you, delegate it. Force responsibility down and out. Find problem areas, add structure and delegate. The pressure is to do the reverse. Resist it.” – Donald Rumsfeld
“Our task, your task… is to try to connect the dots before something happens. People say, ‘Well, where’s the smoking gun?’ Well, we don’t want to see a smoking gun from a weapon of mass destruction.” – Donald Rumsfeld
“Members of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate are not there by accident. Each managed to get there for some reason. Learn what it was, and you will know something important about them, about our country and about the American people.” – Donald Rumsfeld
“Congress, the press, and the bureaucracy too often focus on how much money or effort is spent, rather than whether the money or effort actually achieves the announced goal.” – Donald Rumsfeld
“Many people around the President have sizeable egos before entering government, some with good reason. Their new positions will do little to moderate their egos.” – Donald Rumsfeld
As you can tell, Rumsfeld is a realist. His words of advice are spot on.
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