Richard Haass on Leadership

Dr. Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a position he has held since July 2003.  He is the author or editor of eleven books on American foreign policy, including War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars (Simon and Schuster, May 2009). He is also the author of one book on management: The Bureaucratic Entrepreneur:  How to Be Effective in Any Unruly Organization (Brookings, 1999).

From January 2001 to June 2003, Dr. Richard Haass was director of policy planning for the Department of State, where he was a principal adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Confirmed by the U.S. Senate to hold the rank of ambassador, Dr. Haass also served as U.S. coordinator for policy toward the future of Afghanistan and U.S. envoy to the Northern Ireland peace process.  For his efforts, he received the State Department's Distinguished Honor Award.

Dr. Haass has extensive additional government experience.  From 1989 to 1993, he was special assistant to President George H. W. Bush and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs on the staff of the National Security Council.  In 1991, Dr. Haass was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for his contributions to the development and articulation of U.S. policy during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  Previously, he served in the Departments of State (1981-85) and Defense (1979-80) and was a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate.

Dr. Haass also was vice president and director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, the Sol M. Linowitz visiting professor of international studies at Hamilton College, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.  A Rhodes Scholar, Dr. Haass holds a BA from Oberlin College and the Master and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Oxford University.  He has received honorary doctorates from Hamilton College, Franklin & Marshall College, Georgetown University, and Oberlin College.

Dr. Richard Haass was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1951.  He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.




  • Transcript


Question: What advice do you have for effective leadership?


Richard Haass: Actually it’s the same book, pretty much. The Power To Persuade was the first edition then we reissued a second edition which probably had 10% new material and changed the title so, they’re essentially a similar book.

Two things, one was teaching at the Kennedy School of Government and I couldn’t find the book that I felt told students who were thinking of careers in government but also can and I’ll get to this second but also in the private set. I couldn’t find the book I really liked and I had a lot of experience myself working in government.

What I wanted to do was to produce a book that will help people figure out what it is they wanted to accomplish and figure out how to accomplish it and the model I came up with was a compass that everybody had to think about their north which is their bosses, their south their staff, their east their colleagues and their west which who are those outside their organization but they still had to interact with. How they had a work off for those four directions of their compass to help them figure out what it was they could accomplish and to help pave the way to accomplishing it and that was essentially the model or the structure.

And I interviewed a lot of people and looked at a lot of people and essentially said, what explains why some intelligent people succeed and others fail and I wrote it mainly at the time for people going in to government but I’ve increasingly concluded that it makes just as much sense for people who are running a fortune of 500 companies because when you look at what the worlds these people now run or operate in, it looks an awful lot like a political world. They’re facing all this independent constituencies. They’re under the glare of 24/7 media and a constant new cycle. They’ve got to deal with unions, they’ve got to deal with competition globally and domestically, they’ve got to deal with environmental groups and citizen groups and state legislatures and Washington D.C.

So, if I say, I mean the major financial institutions, so you’re the head of an automobile company but pretty much anything else these days you are operating in an unbelievably crowded, complicated, competitive space. So the age… if it ever existed, when the CEO could live in some kind of splendid isolation and issue commands and have those commands followed faithfully. Those days simply don’t exist so, again I looked at the life of a CEO or someone who wants to be a CEO and I looked at the life of someone who is either a cabinet chief or assistant secretary in some cabinet department in Washington and increasingly the kinds of political challenges they face to figure out what their agenda is more important to get, to translate an agenda into reality. The world’s look awfully similar to me and that’s what I tried to do is come up with tools that would help people navigate extraordinarily challenging political environments which increasingly you find yourself in.


Question: How do you define loyalty?


Richard Haass: One notion, I will give you one if you want to which was just most of us are not the boss. So, I talked about loyalty and to me loyalty has 2 dimensions, one is to speak truth to power. So, wherever you are that one of things you owe it to your conscience, you owe it to your career but you owe it your boss is to tell your boss not what he or she wants to hear but what they need to hear and you need to be creatively also just need to be intellectually honest and if you disagree you need to disagree in here as well.

The other half of loyalty of though, of what you owe boss is when your boss makes a decision and it doesn’t necessarily go your way, you’ve got to live with it. You can’t undermine it, you can’t be disloyal and you don’t want to resign every time you don’t have your way.

It’s something I actually write about it in the Iraq book because I had to live with the question of whether to stay or resign when decisions didn’t go my way and my view is, it either has to be a very big decision that doesn’t go your way and those are rare unfortunately in life or it has to be the accumulation of a large number of medium size decisions that don’t go your way and you say, “Hey, this isn’t the right place for me.” But otherwise, it seems to me you essentially part of what you owe your boss loyalty up is a willingness to work with them.

If you’ve been heard out and even if it goes against you that you don’t essentially pick up your marbles and go home. I mentioned this because on my experience most people often do it either. A lot of people are afraid to speak truth to power because they fear there’s going to be retribution or retaliation. And secondly, if they don’t get the decision they want, one way or another they sabotage it. They’re not enthusiastic or they don’t do all that they could and should and not professional about implementing it. I also say, while we’re on it, there’s also loyalty down from North to South with bosses or their subordinates and it seems to me you owe them their day in court, a chance to make the arguments. If you go against them, I think you owe it to them an explanation as to why and if you do those things I think you’re more likely to get the sort of behaviour you want from your staff.


Recorded on: May 08, 2009