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The Rumsfeld Way: Leadership Wisdom of a Battle-Hardened Maverick

The Rumsfeld Way: Leadership Wisdom of a Battle-Hardened Maverick

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by Jeffrey A. Krames

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This book examines Rumsfield's many career challenges, details what he did to quickly and clearheadedly deal with each, and reveals how he has engineered some of twentieth century America's most stunning victories.


This book examines Rumsfield's many career challenges, details what he did to quickly and clearheadedly deal with each, and reveals how he has engineered some of twentieth century America's most stunning victories.

Editorial Reviews

You might consider your competition deadly, but at least you don't have to cope with suicide bombers. As secretary of defense during the Afghan campaign, Donald Rumsfeld held perhaps the most visible leadership position in the world. In many ways, his entire half-century career in business and government can be viewed as a preparation for this campaign. The lessons that Rumsfeld has learned in planning, coalition building, communication, and strategic thinking apply to every management job. Jeffrey A. Krames, the author of The Jack Welch Lexicon of Leadership, explains how lessons of war can enhance the lives of even the most peaceful.

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America Media International
Publication date:
McGraw Hill Audiobks.
Edition description:
Audio Cassette
Product dimensions:
4.58(w) x 7.14(h) x 1.23(d)

Read an Excerpt

HE HAS BEEN DUBBED "the Articulator in Chief of this perilous effort" by The Washington Post, and CNN called him "the media star of America's new war." CNN's Bernard Kalb said, "The press corps had surrendered to Rummy," despite frustration with the scant amount of information he was providing. Conservative commentator George Will praised to the rooftops his "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" approach to the war. Even the boss was taking note. Upon signing the defense appropriations bill early in 2002, President Bush kidded Rumsfeld on his unexpected celebrity. "I always love being introduced by a matinee television idol," Bush quipped. And even The New York Times commented on Rumsfeld's celebrity. In a tongue-in-cheek piece in early December 2001, columnist Maureen Dowd declared Rumsfeld to be the ringleader of a new Rat Pack, likening him to the original Rat Pack's "chairman of the board," Frank Sinatra: "Forget about Clooney and Pitt mimicking vintage testosterone in the new Rat Pack remake. We've got the real deal right here…the suave swagger of Rummy and Cheney enhanced by cluster bombs and secure locations instead of martinis and broads. Who needs the men of Oceans 11 when you've got the men of September 11?"

Not that the new Chairman of the Board is a pub-crawler. Far from it, in fact. Away from the glare of the briefing or television interview spotlights, and of course excepting official trips, a public Rumsfeld sighting is a rare event indeed. He is seldom seen out on the town, far preferring the quiet and privacy of his Pentagon office, with its windows tinted yellow to deter electronic surveillance.

When he did venture out into society in early 2002, it was to attend the Washington premier of Black Hawk Down. (This was, apparently, only the second movie Rumsfeld attended in years. The only other was Saving Private Ryan.) Judging by the paparazzi who greeted him and the press coverage that followed the event, this was less like a Washington cabinet member venturing out in public and more like an appearance by a movie star. Even Rumsfeld, who prides himself on his ability to spin scenarios and look into the future, has been caught off guard by his star status. But the lapse is certainly forgivable. In fact, in a culture in which youth and beauty reign supreme, who could have predicted that this unlikely, aging figure -- old enough to be the grandfather of some current pop idols -- would capture the imagination of the nation. When was the last time curmudgeonly was hip?

But the rules that applied to the United States before September 11th no longer pertain. In the wake of the nation's terrible tragedy, Americans looked for someone with gravitas, someone who had a firm hand on the tiller. And as if on cue, there on CNN, dead serious but never self-important, was Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

During his first few months on the job, Rumsfeld spent much of his time talking about missile defense and a makeover for the military. Despite the promise of the most rigorous and far-reaching overhaul of the military in history, however, most Americans took little notice of him. Some in the press -- when they paid attention to Rumsfeld at all -- depicted him as an aging politician out of touch with the new ways of Washington. Others saw him as an ultra-conservative "Darth Vader" type who would pursue missile and space defense at the expense of other more pressing programs. By early September, there were even murmurs of an "early exit" for "Rummy" (including a September 7th Washington Post story that speculated about who might replace him). But from the first moments following the attacks, Rumsfeld emerged as a compelling figure. Flanked by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hugh Shelton (as well as two U.S. senators), in a building that was still burning, Rumsfeld struck a note of grief, calm, and purpose. "This is a tragic day for our country," he said. "Our hearts and prayers go to the injured, their families, and friends. We have taken a series of measures to prevent further attacks and to determine who is responsible. We're making every effort to take care of the injured and the casualties in the building."

The Bush administration made a particular point of stressing continuity amid seeming chaos. "The United States government is functioning in the face of this terrible act against our country," Rumsfeld said. "I should add that the briefing here is taking place in the Pentagon. The Pentagon's functioning. It will be in business tomorrow."

By the following day, the government was moving from reaction to action, and Rumsfeld played his part in this transition. He subtly de-emphasized damage assessment and began outlining the Bush administration's plan for moving forward. He introduced Americans to the concept of "a new twenty-first-century battlefield." By all accounts, he excelled in the immediate wake of the attacks, emerging as a cantankerous but capable leader at a point when America badly needed direction.

What struck many observers most forcefully was Rumsfeld's acid-tongued candor. Truth-telling, especially with a hard edge, seems strangely out of place when it emerges from the defense establishment. We have become all too accustomed to our military brass (and their civilian counterparts) describing war in euphemisms and sanitized phrases. By departing so forcefully from that tradition, Rumsfeld has etched himself a sharp profile in our minds. Yes, he's sometimes prickly and acerbic, but he's also oddly refreshing and reassuring. Rumsfeld finds himself in the final act of a four-decade-long career. Today, he appears to have no qualms about setting an errant journalist straight. If he doesn't know something, he doesn't hesitate to say so. If he doesn't want to answer a certain question, he says that too: "Those aren't the kinds of things one discusses," or "It's not the time for discussions like that." And on the flip side, he may choose to respond to a question with an almost alarming directness. At one press conference, Rumsfeld was asked why U.S. warplanes were bombing in a certain area. "To kill them [al Qaeda and Taliban fighters]," he replied. In another meeting with the press, he used the word "kill" nine times-probably an all-time record for a Pentagon press briefing. As The Economist put it, "Mr. Rumsfeld's waffle quotient is remarkably low: he either speaks straightforwardly, or not at all."

So he possesses the gift of candor -- a no-nonsense directness so notable that it achieved the pop-culture status of getting spoofed on Saturday Night Live in late 2001. At the same time, he draws upon a store of earthy, pungent images and metaphors, often with quirky or colorful expressions. The result can be striking. When asked if the United States was close to apprehending fugitive terrorists in Afghanistan (Osama bin Laden), he replied, "If you're chasing a chicken around the barnyard, are you close or are you not close until you get him?"

Journalist and pundit Walter Lippmann observed the ways of power in Washington for many years. "Successful politicians are insecure and intimidated men, who advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the news," he once observed. "Politics has become one of our most neglected, our most abused, and our most ignored professions."

Most modern administrations have only compounded the problem. The Johnson administration obfuscated its way through Vietnam. ("Why should Ho Chi Minh believe me," Johnson complained, "when the newspapers and broadcasters in my own country won't believe me?") Richard Nixon was elected in part because he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War-which he turned out not to have-and eventually got caught in his own Watergate snares. Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, and never recovered from that act. Jimmy Carter was squeaky clean but deemed ineffective. Even Ronald Reagan -- the so-called Teflon president -- was held accountable for the Iran-Contra scandal. The first George Bush was punished for flip-flopping on a tax increase -- and Bill Clinton, of course, wounded himself mortally with the Lewinsky affair.

In the early days of 2002, it is apparent that people trust President Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. For the first time in decades, in fact, a broad cross section of America has confidence in its leaders. Most Americans today would not agree with journalist Lippmann's assessment that politicians advance as they "bamboozle" or "manipulate the news." Polls taken since the September 11th attacks suggest that more than two-thirds of Americans trust their government, a figure not approached since America's victory in the Gulf War.

And Donald Rumsfeld is one of the reasons for this important sea change. In the days and weeks following September 11th, it became increasingly clear that Donald Rumsfeld was the right man in the right job at the right time. Those close to him insist that he hasn't changed. Perhaps he hasn't -- but the world clearly has. And in the new world that emerged in the wake of September 11th, a long-time master of the Washington power game finally found himself in circumstances that would catapult him onto the world stage, like no other event in his already distinguished career.

The secretary of defense's own words, delivered to members of the U.S. Armed Forces twenty-four hours after the attack, suggest that he, too, felt that he was ready for the challenge. By invoking the words of Churchill to the U.S. Armed Forces, Rumsfeld was, in essence, throwing down the gauntlet, asking the men and women in the service to rise to the occasion as their predecessors had in World War II:
Great crises are marked by their memorable moments. At the height of peril to his own nation, Winston Churchill spoke of their finest hour. Yesterday, America and the cause of human freedom came under attack, and the great crisis of America's twenty-first century was suddenly upon us.

Some might have blinked at the approach of the hand of destiny. Rumsfeld did not. What explains his "state of readiness" in the post-September 11th world? First, his many years of maneuvering in the minefields of Washington politics had rendered him one of Washington's most experienced political infighters. But just as important, Rumsfeld had unparalleled experience managing complex situations in times of national crisis and uncertainty. The most vivid example of this was Rumsfeld's management of the post-Watergate Ford White House, at a time when the executive branch found itself in a state of turmoil, even chaos.

Days prior to Nixon's resignation, The Washington Post ran a story entitled "A Capital in Agony." That headline summed up the feelings of a dazed electorate, who had watched the unfortunate events of Watergate play out over many months. In two centuries of American history, no sitting president had been forced from office except at the ballot box. Now the nation was embarking on uncharted waters, and it was indeed a time of "agony"-not just for Washington, but for the American people.

While the aftermaths of Watergate and September 11th were enormously different, there are some obvious parallels as well. Both crises created great uncertainty-a sense that the nation was at great risk if it stood still and yet had no clear path forward. In the wake of Nixon's resignation, Americans felt that their political process, even their democracy, had been violated. It was no accident that Gerald Ford titled his memoir A Time to Heal. The tragic events of September 11th, too, created a sense of violation. Beyond inflicting staggering costs and catastrophic loss of life in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, the attacks cast a deep shadow on the national spirit. Most Americans felt that the enemy "was among us" and feared other attacks were imminent. The majority of Americans suddenly felt unsafe doing things that they had done routinely for decades, such as flying on commercial aircraft and working in tall buildings. It seemed impossible that normalcy could be restored, that Americans could ever feel as safe as they had prior to September 11th, or that they would ever again enjoy the luxury of doing "business as usual."

While the entire Bush team rose to this great challenge (e.g., Dick Cheney and Colin Powell), it was Donald Rumsfeld who had the unique role of reassuring the American people and keeping the nation informed on the progress of the war against terrorism. Although there were other seasoned and articulate cabinet members whom Bush could have selected for this critical role-both Secretary of State Powell and Vice President Cheney had served as highly effective spokespeople during Desert Storm, for example-Rumsfeld was designated the voice of the war, and the voice of reassurance, by the Bush administration.

There is one more unavoidable parallel between Watergate and September 11th. In recent years, national crises have become a collective experience shared in real time, mainly through the ubiquitous presence of TV. "We're all Watergate junkies," one observer confessed during that time of crisis. "Some of us are mainlining, some are sniffing…but we are all addicted." The same could be said for September 11th and the war on terrorism, only this time the addiction was even more widespread. In the intervening quarter-century, cable television had insinuated itself into America's living rooms and bedrooms. (By 2000, more than 80 percent of American households were either cable or satellite subscribers.) This meant that twenty-four-hour-a-day news services like MSNBC were available to satisfy our cravings for the latest news from Afghanistan (CNN even aired a weeknight show entitled "Live from Afghanistan").

And for the most part, it was Rumsfeld that CNN and its competitors served up to us, day after day. Not surprisingly, millions of Americans were soon asking the obvious questions: Who is this Donald Rumsfeld? And where on earth did he come from?

Meet the Author

Jeffrey A. Krames is vice president and editor-in-chief of McGraw-Hill's Trade Division. Author of the bestseller The Jack Welch Lexicon of Leadership and a leading leadership authority, Krames has been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Financial Times and the Los Angeles Times.

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The Rumsfeld Way: Leadership Wisdom of a Battle-Hardened Maverick 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Another reviewer appears to think that this book was not esoteric enough, but I think that the simplicity of the book is not only its genius, but also is an accurate thumbnail portrayal of DR. He speaks plainly, he doesn't mince words, and any book that analyzes the man by doing otherwise fails to realize the frank brilliance of the subject.