Many of these rules, reflections and
quotations came from my role as chairman
of the “transition team” for President Ford and my service as
White House chief of staff. Others came from experiences as a
U.S. naval aviator, a member of Congress, ambassador to the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization, secretary of defense,
presidential Middle East envoy, business executive,
chairman of the U.S. Ballistic
Missile Threat Commission, and other experiences.
These reflections and quotations
have been gathered over the past 40
years. Credit is given where known.
As the quotation has it, “If it's not true, it's still well
founded.” -- Unknown
Serving in the
(for the White House
chief of staff and senior staff)
around. If you are invisible, the mystique of the
president's office may perpetuate inaccurate impressions
about you or the president, to his detriment. After all, you
may not be as bad as they're
system leadership is by consent,
not command. To lead, a president must persuade. Personal
contacts and experiences help shape his thinking. They can
be critical to his persuasiveness and thus to his
Don't divide the world into
“them” and “us.” Avoid infatuation with or resentment of the
press, the Congress, rivals, or opponents. Accept them as
facts. They have their jobs and you have yours.
the clutter, beyond all the obstacles, aside from all the
static, are the goals set. Put your head down, do the best
job possible, let the flak pass,
and work toward those goals.
Bearings in the White House
deputy and develop a successor. Don't
be consumed by the job or you'll risk losing your balance.
Keep your mooring lines to the outside world -- family,
friends, neighbors, people out of government and people who
may not agree with you.
you sit, the White House may look as untidy as the inside of
a stomach. As is said of the legislative process, sausage
making and policy making
shouldn't be seen close-up. Don't
let that panic you. Things may be going better than they
look from the inside.
Doing the Job in
the White House
performance depends on your people. Select the best, train
them, and back them. When errors occur, give sharper
guidance. If errors persist or if the fit feels wrong, help
them move on. The country cannot afford amateur hour in the
launch many projects but have time to finish only a few. So
think, plan, develop, launch and tap good people to be
responsible. Give them authority and hold them accountable.
Trying to do too much yourself
creates a bottleneck.
needs multiple sources of information. Avoid excessively
restricting the flow of paper, people, or ideas to the
president, though you must watch his time.
If you overcontrol,
it will be your “regulator” that controls, not his.
Only by opening the spigot fairly wide,
risking that some of his time may be wasted, can his
“regulator” take control.
the president, the cabinet and the staff are informed. If
cut out of the information flow, their decisions may be
poor, not made, or not confidently or persuasively
Don't allow people to be excluded
from a meeting or denied an opportunity to express their
views because their views differ from the president's views,
the views of person who calls the meeting, or your views.
The staff system must have integrity and discipline.
president is faced with a
decision, be sure he has the recommendations of all
appropriate people, or that he realizes he does not have
their views and is willing to accept the consequence. They
will be out of sync, unhappy and
less effective if they feel they are or are seen as having
been “cut out.”
Don't be a bottleneck. If a
matter is not a decision for the president or you, delegate
it. Force responsibility down and out. Find problem areas,
add structure, and delegate. The pressure is to do the
reverse. Resist it.
prospective presidential approach can't
be explained clearly enough to be understood well, it
probably hasn't been thought through well enough. If not
well understood by the American people, it probably
won't “sail” anyway. Send it back
for further thought.
your time. If you're working off
your in-box, you're working off the priorities of others. Be
sure the staff is working on what you move to them from the
president, or the president will be reacting, not leading.
dealing with Congress as a “revolving door.”
You'll be back to today's
opponents for their help tomorrow. Presidential proposals
will need a member of Congress's support on some issue, at
some time, regardless of philosophy, party or their
positions on other issues. Don't
allow White House links to members to be cut because they
may disagree on some or even many issues.
any idea is promoted primarily
because it is “bold, exciting, innovative and new.” There
are many ideas that are “bold, exciting, innovative and
new,” but also foolish.
government should be the last resort, not the first. Ask if
a potential program is truly a federal responsibility or
whether it can better be handled
privately, by voluntary organizations, or by local or state
others. As former Sen. Pat Moynihan (D., N.Y.) said,
“Stubborn opposition to proposals often has no other basis
than the complaining question, 'Why wasn't I consulted?' ”
analyze situations intelligently, anticipate problems and
move swiftly to solve them. However, when you're up to your
ears in alligators, it is difficult to remember that the
reason you're there is to drain the swamp.” -- Unknown
government looking at the actions of another government and
trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and
conspiracy, and underestimates
incompetency and fortuity.” --
Silberman's Law of Diplomacy, U.S. Circuit Court
Judge Laurence Silberman
Congress and the Press
For the Secretary
right to get into anything, and exercise it. Make your
deputies and staff realize that,
although many responsibilities are delegated, no one should
be surprised when the secretary engages an important issue.
initiate new activities, find things you are currently doing
that you can discontinue -- whether reports, activities,
etc. It works, but you must force yourself to do it. Always
keep in mind your “teeth-to-tail ratio.”
advantage of a free market is that it allows millions of
decision-makers to respond individually to freely determined
prices, allocating resources -- labor, capital and human
ingenuity -- in a manner that can't be mimicked by a central
plan, however brilliant the central planner.” -- Friedrich
On Life (and
“The art of
listening is indispensable for the right use of the mind. It
is also the most gracious, the most open and the most
generous of human habits.” -- Attributed to R. Barr, St.
John's College, Annapolis, Md.
problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a
fact, not to be solved, but to be coped with over time.” --