Issue No. 278 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting includes over two dozen zinger quotations, rules and axioms from Donald Rumsfeld’s years with four U.S. Presidents. Plus, this reminder: check out my “new and improved” Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings. And click here to download the master list of my 275 book reviews, categorized into the 20 management buckets.
Chief Javelin Catcher
Admiral Hyman Rickover warned, “If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won’t.”
That’s one of over 400 “rules” in the hot-off-the-press book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, by Donald Rumsfeld. The quotations, axioms, rules and corner office wisdom ooze off almost every page. In the front of my copy, I noted 36 rules that I will use again, such as these keepers from “Running a Meeting” in chapter two:
• “The first consideration for meetings is whether to call one at all.”
• “If you can find something everyone agrees on, it’s wrong.” (Rep. Mo Udall)
Rumsfeld adds, “The default tendency in any bureaucracy, especially in government, is to substitute discussion for decision-making. The act of calling a meeting about a problem can in some cases be confused with actually doing something.”
“If you expect people
to be in on the landing,
include them for the takeoff.”
• “Stubborn opposition to proposals often has no basis other than the complaining question, ‘Why wasn’t I consulted?’” (Pat Moynihan)
• “As drill sergeants are fond of saying, ‘If you’re five minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you have some explaining to do.’”
The 33-page appendix of over 400 “Rumsfeld’s Rules” is worth the price of the book, yet I also underlined dozens and dozens of one-liner insights in the 12 fascinating chapters including:
• Picking People (a must read)
• Thinking Strategically (excellent)
• The Unknown Unknowns
• Confronting Crisis
• Meeting the Press (relevant today!)
• Inside the Oval Office
He quotes Jack Watson who served President Jimmy Carter, “The role of White House Chief of Staff is that of a ‘javelin catcher.’” (Who is the Chief Javelin Catcher in your organization?)
Rumsfeld, who served President Gerald Ford in that role writes, “Arguably, there is no more consequential staff position in the U.S. government, perhaps even the world, than the position of White House Chief of Staff. At its core, the job is about making sure the President is able to focus on what is important for the country, that he is prepared, on schedule, and safe.” (Who is focusing on those four issues for your CEO or senior pastor?)
Rumsfeld credits dozens of others for his rules. Vice President Dick Cheney’s favorite rule, attributed to Sam Rayburn, “You never get in trouble for what you don’t say.”
Even though Rumsfeld served four U.S. presidents, the book is not highly political. Now past 80, he dispenses street-smart wisdom from his stunning career: Princeton, U.S. Navy, U.S. House of Representatives (six years), White House Chief of Staff, U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Secretary of Defense (twice), Fortune 500 company CEO (twice), and married for almost 60 years. Their secret to a long marriage? Joyce Rumsfeld’s response: “He travels a lot.”
Here’s a taste:
• “If you are not prepared to live with the fact that your actions may lead to failure, then you probably ought not to be in leadership.”
• “In the execution of the boss’s decisions, work to be true to his [her] views in both fact and tone.”
• “Another lesson a smart staff member quickly learns is to always carry a pen and some paper when meeting with the boss.”
• “One of the more important—and difficult—tasks for a staff member is to tell the boss when he might be wrong.”
“Disagreement is not disloyalty.”
(Curtis E. Sahakian)
• “My advice upon entering an organization is to build your own team—and do it fast—while recognizing that it won’t be the happiest task in your life. Get any reassignments over with as quickly as possible.”
• “Prune businesses, products, activities, and people. Do it annually.”
• “A’s hire A’s. B’s hire C’s.”
• “If you want to find out which managers are A’s and which are B’s, take a hard look at the teams that surround them.”
• “Forward-thinking leaders try to have some names in mind before a key vacancy needs to be filled.”
• “Resumes should not require a decoder ring.” (He quotes Samuel Johnson here, “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”)
• “I lean toward people who have lives outside of work—an interesting hobby, perhaps, or fluency in a foreign language, for example.”
• “Many people have the ability to review something and make it better. Few are able to identify what is missing.”
“Never hire anyone
you can’t fire.”
I’ve already sent this book to a client with the request to read the brilliant chapter on “Thinking Strategically.”
• “This strategy represents our policy for all time. Until it’s changed.” (Marlin Fitzwater)
• “Without the discipline and time invested in strategic planning, one of two things is likely to happen. Your organization will be buffeted by outside events and forced to be reactive. Or it will stay on autopilot, propelled by the inertia of policies and plans that were decided months or years before.”
• “If you are working from your inbox, you are working on other people’s priorities.”
• “If you get the objectives right, a lieutenant can write the strategy.” (General George C. Marshall)
• “If you don’t know what your top three priorities are, you don’t have priorities.”
“What you measure improves.”
Rumsfeld recommends four steps in strategic planning:
Step 1: Set the Goals
Step 2: Identify Your Key Assumptions
Step 3: Determine the Best Course of Action
Step 4: Monitor Progress Through Metrics
He says that the second step “tends to be one of the most neglected. Assumptions are often left unstated, it being taken for granted that everyone around a table knows what they are, when frequently that is not the case. The assumptions that are hidden or held subconsciously are the ones that often get you into trouble.” He adds:
“It is possible to proceed perfectly logically from an inaccurate premise to an inaccurate and unfortunate conclusion.”
Yikes! I gotta stop and end this review—but I have dozens of more rules I wanted to squeeze in. Much like Bill Hybels’ book, Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs, and The Best of Success: A Treasury of Inspiration, by Mac Anderson and Bob Kelly, Rumsfeld’s book will exceed your expectations for memorable quotations and poignant PowerPoints.
IDEA: Create a “Rumsfeld’s Rule-of-the-Week” feature on the bulletin board closest to your coffee machine. Pass the book around for a year—and invite one team member each week to post a favorite rule.
To order this book from Amazon, click on the graphic below for: Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, by Donald Rumsfeld.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) Rumsfeld quotes General Colin Powell, “Tell them what you know. Tell them what you don’t know. And only then, tell them what you think. And be sure you distinguish among them.” How effective are our team members in this?
2) Rumsfeld’s chapter, “Planning for Uncertainty,” quotes Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” How effectively do we plan for uncertainty?
Effective Boards Address Assumptions - Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
This issue’s big idea from Mastering the Management Buckets (Chapter 14, The Board Bucket) is that boards must address an organization’s “assumptions” before it can approve a strategic plan. It’s not enough just to get the right people on the board bus—you must then focus everyone on the board’s appropriate governance role. And, per Rumsfeld’s Rules above, before a board can address and own the strategy, it must affirm the staff’s assumptions about the plan.
In his chapter on “Thinking Strategically,” Rumsfeld describes a military planning meeting. “The objective of the plan was straightforward enough: to defend South Korean sovereignty and defeat the North Korean threat. What I found troubling, however, was that there was no discussion of the key assumptions in which the plan was rooted.”
Rumsfeld dismissed the meeting and they reconvened on the next Saturday. “That Saturday we met for hours and never discussed any of the plans, only the assumptions.”
In addition to sharing the “Thinking Strategically” chapter with your board, you can find more board resources, including 10 governance book recommendations, at my Board Bucket webpage.