Rumsfeld’s Rules


donrumThe Wednesday Morning Club Welcomes Donald Rumsfeld — In a Conversation With David Horowitz — on Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. All welcome! For more info and to register, click here.

When President Gerald Ford learned that his Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld had compiled a file of instructive observations and quotations about effective leadership and management, he asked to read them. An impressed Ford promptly designated them “Rumsfeld’s Rules” and distributed them to the senior members of the White House staff. Since then they have been read by presidents, government officials, business leaders, diplomats, members of Congress, and others. Rumsfeld was finally asked to collect them between covers and elaborate on them, and the result is the just-published Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life.

Donald Rumsfeld boasts a ridiculously distinguished résumé from the arenas of business, government, and the military: naval aviator, Congressman, top aide to four American presidents, ambassador, the CEO of both a worldwide pharmaceutical company and a leading company in broadcasting technologies, and of course, as he is most well-known, the 13th and 21st U.S. Secretary of Defense (the only man in American history to serve twice in that post). He is also the author of Known and Unknown: A Memoir, a weighty tome but one of the most important political memoirs since the 9/11 attacks forever altered our geopolitical landscape. He now chairs the Rumsfeld Foundation, which supports leadership and public service at home, and funds global finance projects, fellowships, and charitable causes that benefit our armed forces and their families (all proceeds of Known and Unknown, for example, go to the Foundation’s military charities).

In the course of that multifaceted career, Rumsfeld collected his “Rules,” advice and maxims based on his own experiences and the wisdom of others. While he cautions that “rules cannot be a substitute for judgment,” he emphasizes in his new book that these

are insights into human nature, timeless truths that have survived the changes in our culture… Most have broad applicability and can be useful whether you aspire to be a leader in government, church, business, sports, or the military. They convey distilled wisdom that can… serve as guideposts in decision-making.

As Rumsfeld himself notes, the Rules are not all his, nor are they all rules. Some are life lessons or pearls of wisdom from others, who are quoted in the book – everyone from Thomas Jefferson, Confucius, Frederick the Great, Gen. Curtis LeMay (“I am unable to distinguish between the unfortunate and the incompetent, and I can’t afford either”), Margaret Thatcher, Von Clausewitz, Churchill, and the ubiquitous strategist of war, Sun Tzu (“He who defends everywhere, defends nowhere”), to Sammy Davis Jr. and Lewis Carroll (“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”). “Truth be told,” Rumsfeld admits, “I don’t know if I’ve had a truly original thought in my life. I enjoy being around people smarter than I am, who know more than I do, and who have done things I haven’t done.”

Grouped thematically in chapters, the Rules address managerial basics – or what should be basics, but are too often in frustratingly short supply in the real world: “Starting at the Bottom,” “Running a Meeting,” “Thinking Strategically,” “Battling Bureaucracy,” “Planning for Uncertainty,” and so forth. “Be willing to learn from those at the top,” goes one rule. “If you’re working from your inbox, you’re working on other people’s priorities,” goes another. “Don’t overcontrol like a novice pilot. Stay loose enough from the flow that you can observe and calibrate.” “When negotiating, never feel that you are the one that must fill every silence.” “If you don’t know what your top three priorities are, you don’t have priorities.”

In a plainspoken style that suits his direct, no-nonsense character, Rumsfeld fleshes out the Rules with personal anecdotes and examples drawn from his vast personal experience. While his leadership advice is undeniably useful, and in many instances particularly so for someone just starting out in a management position or still striving for one, these illustrations are very often the most compelling parts of the book. He tells why, for example, Dick Cheney considers his first interview with Rumsfeld – back in 1968 when Cheney was seeking an internship on Capitol Hill – “the worst interview” of his life. He discusses the differences in personalities and leadership styles of the presidents for whom he worked. He even draws upon his sports experience as a young wrestler for leadership lessons.

Along the way, Rumsfeld sprinkles in a surprising amount of welcome dry humor. “In politics,” he writes, for example, “every day is filled with numerous opportunities for serious error. Enjoy it.” At another point he asserts that “the act of calling a meeting about a problem can in some cases be confused with actually doing something.”

The last handful of chapters are perhaps the most interesting, dealing as they do with the vastness and extraordinary integrity of military culture (“Lessons from the World’s Most Successful Leadership Organization”), the unique difficulties of managing the people within the White House (“Inside the Oval Office”), a passionate defense of capitalism and of America as a force for good in the world (“The Case for Capitalism”), and perseverance through mistakes and criticism, on both the personal and national levels (“The Optimism of Will”).

In closing, Rumsfeld again stresses that “leadership is not about following ironclad rules; it’s about one’s instincts. Leadership is not composed of a collection of maxims; it comes from one’s own independent judgment.” It requires “the courage to venture out into the world and make mistakes and, yes, even fail.” Nonetheless, Rumsfeld’s Rules is a very readable, insightful guide with practical advice to becoming a wiser and more effective leader. It is also an insightful window onto the leader behind the book.   

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  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

    When one is concentrating on running the most efficient and accountable operation one utilizes one set of "rules". When one is intent on deceiving and manipulating in order to "transform", one uses another set of "rules" – rules for radicals. And herein the rubber meets the road.

    It is certainly not the case that the "oh so smart set" ruling Obama Inc doesn't understand the difference. It is the case that they do! Thus, even though mistakes were made under Rumsfeld's rules, they were in line with protecting American interests. Not so with Obama Inc – http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/05/20/the-radical-i

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

  • onecornpone

    Some of my most fond memories of Rummy are of his jousting with the DC press, demonstrating their total ineptness. He ran circles around them until someone on the Bush team insisted he dial it down. From the podium at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld could have been the most popular man in America, and probably could have saved Bush from much of the unwarranted ridicule he suffered.

    • Tracy

      Save Bush?nothing is going to take away from what those three did, ever.They all (Bush,Cheney and rummy) three should be brought up on war criminal charges and have their assets seized from profits of a bogus war.

      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

        And they protected us even knowing people such as yourself would prefer to be 'transformed' by someone such as Obama.

      • Pontotoc Bill

        Says the left wing loon who brays, bleats, and moans; yet can NEVER come up with the evidence to prove their comment.

        Try again.

      • Nabuquduriuzhur

        You'll forgive me for not agreeing with you.

        As of two years ago, some 400,000 in mass graves had been found in Iraq from the Saddam era. The Telegraph and other British papers reported that. How many more would be dead if we hadn't stopped him?

        (Unlike Bosnia, where only three small mass graves have ever been found, the third in 2011 of less than 200. No one complained "clinton lied, people died" despite the reason for Bosnia being a lie.)

        It's conveniently ignored where Syria got it's chemical arsenal from. It's not Soviet-era, and dates to later than Desert Storm, so where do you think it was made? Saddam had 5 months to move it to Syria, Lebanon, and other countries like the 20 tons found in Amman Jordan in 2004.

        The two things I do fault Bush for are: ignoring 6 million illegals per year over the border, and for not asking Congress to rebuilld the military to its 1991 level. Rumsfeld literally had to do with brigades what was the job of corps.

      • pagegl

        The only thing bogus about that war was the intelligence passed to Bush by the Clinton administration and the Brits. That intelligence was then used to enforce UN sanctions put in place to keep Iraq from manufacturing WMDs. The UN had slacked off enforcing its own rules (probably because several members of the EU were violating those sanctions to get cheap oil). If you read the declarations to initiate the war, you would find that it was to enforce several UN resolutions placing sanctions on Iraq.

      • Jim

        Still blaming Bush. Bush was a great president.

    • Stephen_Brady

      Hello, OCP! I agree with you, entirely …

  • Tracy

    Just exactly what rules were he,Bush and Cheney using when they threw the American people into the Iraq/Afgan wars?What rules do we use to get out of this massive deficit they caused with their lies of WMD?other countries in the world consider the three of them to be the most prolific war criminals of the 20th century. Oh,that's right they are republicans so it's o.k. the choices and actions they made for America really helped the world out. Let's just start heaping crap on Obama they will forget about what we did.

    • Pontotoc Bill

      Another "Blame Bush" for all the troubles of the US. Obama has been president for 5 years. When will he be responsible for his actions?

      I know. Obama is responsible for everything since January 2009.

    • Flowerknife_us

      What would Obama's excuse be for Ballooning the Debt to an even greater %???
      Having left Iraq and whacked away the defense budget as he has.
      Congress let Bush go to both Icrap And Afcrapistan. Unlike Obama who went to war with Libya on his own. Where was your Indignation then? The IRS have your Tongue?.
      Obama Killed Osama. Big deal. He's still funding every other Muslim in the Middle East that thinks just like Osama did.

      Are you really impervious to everything except your commissar's talking points?

      • objectivefactsmatter

        "What would Obama's excuse be for Ballooning the Debt to an even greater %???"

        Peace dividend. Who knew it costs more to destroy capitalism and Western democracy than to support it?

        I know; Bush's fault. Repeat forever.

  • Tracy

    Just exactly what rules were he,Bush and Cheney using when they threw the American people into the Iraq/Afgan wars?What rules do we use to get out of this massive deficit they caused with their lies of WMD?other countries in the world consider the three of them to be the most prolific war criminals of the 20th century. Oh,that's right they are republicans so it's o.k. the choices and actions they made for America really helped the world out. Let's just start heaping crap on Obama they will forget about what we did.

  • Asher

    When men become corrupt and evil the nation suffers…We have never been under such a dictorship as we have under Obama. He has let the American people down…This is an administration who has it backwards…they hate Americans and Coddle the Muslim Brotherhood as well as other terrorist organizations over their own citizens, (Especially in Benghazi.)

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

    They had this strange idea that we were safer when our enemies were weak.

  • Jim_C

    I think Rumsfeld would have been a great peacetime Secretary of War. I think he had great ideas for revamping the military to meet the needs of the 21st century. I don't think history is going to judge his performance favorably, though, both as one of the few people eager to invade Iraq even prior to 9/11 and for the poor planning of that action. He's an interesting character, though. I think he took more boneheaded questions at press conferences than any recent president ever had to and it was kind of fun to watch him struggle not to say so.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    The pictures of Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon the day of the 9/ll Islamist assault on
    America with him moving through the smoke and rubble helping carry the wounded and
    dying tells it all about his charachter. Don Rumsfeld is and has been a courageous man.
    William

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "The pictures of Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon the day of the 9/ll Islamist assault on
      America with him moving through the smoke and rubble helping carry the wounded and
      dying tells it all about his charachter. Don Rumsfeld is and has been a courageous man.
      William"

      On that evidence alone he's a frontrunner for greatest leader in modern history.

  • Hank Rearden

    I am sure that Donald Rumsfeld is a very good man. When he became Secretary of Defense it looked as if he was a Titan, like the men who ran World War II for us.

    But…one has to say that what characterized the Iraq War was that it – the postwar, not the combat phase – was the worst managed venture in modern history which seriously damaged the U.S. and created a huge number of casualties that we can judge to have been unnecessary.

    Rumsfeld as SecDef had lobbied Bush to be the sole guy in charge of postwar Iraq. And there was a logic to that in that in the American experience it is best to have one guy in charge and the SecDef had the military under him. And that was atrociously, I would say, negligently(!) managed.

    As just one example, General Sanchez, who was probably in over his head, still was left for a year with half the staff that he required at his headquarters!! And this is only one example. No homework was done on Iraqi history or culture by those at the top. Yes, it was done at the staff level but not by those at the top, not by Rumsfeld.

    It was not until Bush asserted himself as Commander in Chief in late 2006 that things began to improve. Under Rumsfeld, the U.S. suffered its worst foreign policy defeat probably ever. So. Rumsfeld's Rules may be a nice book but the guy who wrote them turned out to be a terrible leader and manager. And I say that as someone who was stunned to see that that was the case.

    • PhillipGaley

      Yes:
      And he could out joust the press corps, and perhaps due to no small reason that, they all together are on about the same intellectual and spiritual level.
      His quotes recited here: “every day is filled with numerous opportunities for serious error. Enjoy it.”, and: “the act of calling a meeting about a problem can in some cases be confused with actually doing something.”, are most typical of the kind of simple newspaper humor which so easily takes the place of wisdom.
      And as "Many a good beginning has made a bad ending.", his most telling retarded accomplishment was in the fact that, for all his supposed knowledge and skill, the learned leader failed to recognize the Iraqi body politic as having a body and head, and—going three levels down to eliminate any possible following or continuance in governmental control—when that administrative bureaucratic head was cut off, every man and woman in the body politic was cast adrift, and the controlling head was turned to despise the conquerors, and largely, for being so nit-wit. The opposition then energized and organized, and Iraq has never recovered, . . . And sure, he will agree and say that, he made a mistake, . . . but just more of his dashing spirit of adventure, bold enough to make mistakes, to: "Do something, even if it's wrong.", and to foolow his instinct instead of being on par with wisdom

      Yes, D. Rumsfeld can be quite a humorous and entertaining fellow, . . . not someone though, whom I would wish to sit under, . . . for any length of time, . . .

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "So. Rumsfeld's Rules may be a nice book but the guy who wrote them turned out to be a terrible leader and manager. And I say that as someone who was stunned to see that that was the case."

      It's not yet clear how anyone can successfully lead the nation with so many fifth columnists entrenched. Maybe we need to win the political cold civil war at home before we can expect to win the peace abroad.

  • pierce

    Rumsfeld's rule make a hell of a lot more sense than those of Panetta, or Hagel, but then neither of them want to acknowledge the enemy, or engage them. Panetta and Hagel are what was called pantywaists in my day. I wished I could be more complimentary, but I call it as I see it.
    And as for Obama, he is a disgrace for a CIC, and the only thing he knows how to do is swing a golf club, and act like Joe Cool.

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