RUMSFELD’S RULES: LEADERSHIP LESSONS IN BUSINESS, POLITICS, WAR, AND LIFE
By Donald H. Rumsfeld
Broadside Books, $27.99, 334 pages
Whether you are a business owner, member of Congress, professor, soccer mom, college student, administrative assistant or anything in between, you could probably learn a few lessons from Donald H. Rumsfeld’s new leadership guide.
“Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life,” is a compilation of fortune cookie-like rules, reflections and quotations gathered throughout his life, jotted down on index cards and stored in a shoebox. When he served as President Gerald R. Ford’s chief of staff in 1974, Ford asked to see them. They were then typed up and distributed to the White House staff, gaining the nickname “Rumsfeld’s Rules.”
The leadership guide is useful for those who may want to climb the career ladder or are currently in any kind of leadership position. Mr. Rumsfeld has plenty of somewhat cheesy but sound advice for budding leaders and offers inspiring anecdotes of his time as a staff and administrative assistant. He points to the work ethic of one particular staff assistant who was hardworking, humble and responsible and later went on to become vice president: Dick Cheney.
The rules clearly draw heavily from Mr. Rumsfeld’s experiences as the 13th and 21st secretary of defense (under Ford and George W. Bush) and the CEO of two Fortune 500 companies. He has quite a resume as well: He has served as a U.S. Navy aviator, flight instructor, congressman, U.S. ambassador to NATO and White House chief of staff. In his book, he quotes notable figures such as Sun Tzu, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and Thomas Jefferson. He even quotes his wife, Joyce Rumsfeld, and her father, adding a very personal touch to his list of rules.
The chapters cover everything from how to start at the bottom (get your foot in the door), how to run a productive meeting (always have a set agenda and be on time), the importance of picking the right people and how to think strategically (consider all options and have priorities).
Other chapters cover topics of interest particularly to politicians, such as how to respond to a crisis, plan for uncertainties, work in the Oval Office and deal with the press. Mr. Rumsfeld, a business executive and the only twice-serving defense secretary in U.S. history, said at a Heritage Foundation event that he added a chapter on capitalism at the last minute because “there are very few people in government today who have a background in business.”
At the Heritage event, Mr. Rumsfeld said his favorite rule is under his “thinking strategically” chapter: “What you measure improves.” Measuring progress is the key to encouraging productivity, according to Mr. Rumsfeld, whether it is for a military cadet making his bed properly, a politician producing real impact in the community or a health-minded person trying to lose 15 pounds.
At the event, he discussed the importance of credibility in government and described the current scandals — Benghazi, the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups and the Justice Department’s snooping on Associated Press reporters — as the “latest perfect storm” that is crippling trust in the Obama administration and lessening its ability to lead.
“In our country, leadership is by persuasion. And to be persuasive, you have to be believable,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Rumsfeld supplements his “rules” with an engaging narrative style and plenty of intriguing anecdotes. He offers fascinating observations on the leadership styles of various presidents. For example, during meetings, Lyndon Johnson was overpowering and kept interrupting others; Richard Nixon was formal and sometimes awkward with large groups, but warmer with smaller groups; and George W. Bush was an “unusually attentive listener” who asked precise questions.
Some of the “rules” sound cookie cutter-esque. For example: “When starting at the bottom, be willing to learn from those at the top.” But Mr. Rumsfeld does offer wisdom within the pages of his book. One rule on thinking strategically is particularly striking: “If you are working from your inbox, you are working on other people’s priorities.” Instead, leaders should have other people working off their memos — a useful reminder for any leader today.
Annie Z. Yu is a senior at Azusa Pacific University and an editorial intern at The Washington Times.