Here follows a couple of political posts. I’ve just watched the interview that George W. Bush gave to NBC’s Matt Lauer in advance of his political memoir, Decision Points. The whole interview can be seen here. Whether or not you agreed with his politics (for a lot of it, I didn’t) there are some interesting leadership points and other thoughts that come out of it. How much of these has come with the benefit of hindsight can be debated.
1. In the interview, he actually comes across ok – as a likeable fellow and as someone with a grasp and confidence in the decisions he made. Oliver Stone’s movie ‘W.‘ paints Bush as a weak man driven by his advisers and always trying to get out of his father’s shadow and to earn his approval. The movie leaves him stuck in the mire of Iraq and deep in uncertainty about what to do. In the interview, when questioned about the surge he recognises he was going against advice from some quarters and was also taking a risk, but that it was a decision that had to be made and, like it or not, it was his to make. It begs the question why on earth he didn’t give more interviews like this whilst he was president.
2. He is unafraid to defend the decisions he made whilst also admitting where he made mistakes without absolving responsibility. At the end of the interview he discusses a photo that was taken of him leaning to look out of the window of Air Force One over the destruction of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. He says it was a mistake as it made him look out of touch with what was going on, which he wasn’t. Who’s fault does he say the mistake was. he could have shifted responsibility onto the photographer or an adviser, but he doesn’t. It was his mistake. It seems that when Bush does admit a mistake he doesn’t try to exonerate himself from it. Leaders need to be able to stick up for what they think and either defend it or admit responsibility.
3. A fairly obvious point, but one that so many leaders miss – Bush said he didn’t care that his approval rating was so low by the time he left the presidency. Why? Because he was the leader and decision maker and as leader he was always going to face criticism from somewhere, no matter what he did. Leaders shouldn’t chase popularity.
4. There is one point in the interview where he avoids a question put to him. The discussions is about waterboarding as a technique used to extract information from certain prisoners of Guantanamo Bay. When asked how he knew it was legal (i.e. not torture), he responds that he had some lawyers look into the law and they told him. (At certain times leaders need to rely entirely on the advice from others who know more in their field). The interviewer responded by asking whether, given that he thinks it’s legal, it would be ok for an American prisoner in another country to be subjected to it. Bush avoids the question. I can see that it would be very tricky to answer but Bush basically avoided it by saying “I’m not going to debate this, that practice saved lives”. I would have preferred a greater acknowledgment of the question.
5. Finally, recalling the terrible events of 9/11 (and of hurricane Katrina), it made me very grateful that I was not president then having to lead a nation in the midst of such shock, grief and uncertainty and having to decide what course of action to take.
HT: Dave Cook at Cookie’s Days.