Richard Haass on Leadership

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


Richard Haass applies the lessons of warfare to the business world.

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