The "Other" Donald, and His Rules
I didn't know much about Donald Rumsfeld when I initially picked up this book, save that I had seen him on TV a lot after 9/11 and connected him entirely with President Bush's inner circle.
But the more I knew about him, the more I was drawn to him.
Throughout his illustrious career, Rumsfeld has seen everything. He is most recognized for serving as the youngest and oldest US Secretary of Defense under Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush.
He served as the White House Chief of Staff and was a four-term member of the United States Congress from Illinois. He also served as the CEO of two Fortune 500 businesses, including G.D. Seattle & Company, which Monsanto eventually acquired.
"It is difficulties that show what men are," remarked Epictetus, a Greek stoic.
As Rumsfeld will confirm, if there is one thing that you can count on in business, it is a problem. In these instances, how you lead may make all the difference between success and failure.
And that's precisely what we're going to talk about today: Rumsfeld's Rules for Crisis Leadership.
Where the Rules Come From
"Once you quit one thing, then you can quit something else, and pretty soon, you'll get good at being a quitter."
In response to Donald's wish to leave the boy scouts, Rumsfeld's father gave him this advice in an overseas letter during WWII.
He made it plain that the decision was Donald's to make but that he should consider the implications of his actions carefully.
Rumsfeld's Rules, an ever-evolving collection of knowledge he has gathered over the years, began with this bit of advice.
Rumsfeld cited one of his "rules" in a meeting with President Gerald Ford years later. Ford demanded to examine Rumsfeld's other quotations and insights after learning that he had a file full of them.
Ford dubbed them "Rumsfeld's Rules" and sent a copy to each senior member of the White House staff.
As we go through Rumsfeld's guidelines for crisis leadership, keep in mind one of his most common rules: "All generalizations are false - including this one." The rules are intended to be used as guidelines, not as a substitute for judgment.
Rule # 1: Trust your instincts
As Rumsfeld says, "Success depends, at least in part, on the ability to "carry it off."
Whatever situation you find yourself in, the worst error you can make is to believe that there is a perfect reaction plan waiting for you. There isn't any.
There was no long-term crisis response strategy in place when Rumsfeld felt the walls of his office shake when Flight 77 hit the Pentagon on 9/11.
He got up and started going, attempting to figure out what had occurred and see if any injured individuals he could assist.
They gathered as much data as possible and convened with military commanders to discuss the next course of action.
Rule #2: Don't "over-control" like a novice pilot
When something unexpected occurs, the last thing a leader should do, or, more crucially, give the impression of doing, is panic. It undermines your team's trust in you, who will be turning to you for certainty and a sense of direction.
When Rumsfeld arrived at the Pentagon's national command center to be briefed, smoke from the ventilation system rendered getting work done nearly impossible.
He was told that he should fly to an off-site command center, but he believed that he needed to remain visible on the ground to show his power and authority.
So, don't worry, but make sure you're seen and heard at all times.
Rule #3: First reports are often wrong
One of the reasons it's critical to keep a level head amid a crisis is that early reports are frequently inaccurate.
While it may be tempting to begin making plans right away, be sure you have all of the necessary information before making any decisions that will have long-term implications.
Rumsfeld, on the other hand, points out the following exceptions to this rule:
"With most problems, 80 percent of what can be known relatively rapidly, but the remaining 20 percent can take forever."
So, after establishing that you have the first 80% of the information accurate, don't waste time and energy hunting for the other 20%.
This leads us to the following rule.
Rule #4: Speed kills
Speed generates chances, denies the adversary alternatives, and may frequently be the difference between success and loss in the military.
So, if you're confident that you have enough information to act, make a decision, and get started.
Johnson and Johnson's response to poisoned Tylenol capsules that murdered seven individuals in Chicago in the fall of 1982 is a well-known corporate example.
They launched a countrywide Tylenol recall right away, which cost them millions of dollars. It suspended manufacturing, halted all promotion, and offered to replace any Tylenol pills previously purchased with tablets that had been tested and confirmed to be safe.
The development of tamper-proof containers as a result of the crisis became the standard for over-the-counter medications.
Rule # 5: Never waste a good crisis
President Obama's first Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, has stated that,
"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
As Rumsfeld points out, a crisis allows you to move courageously to change things in ways you would not have been able to accomplish otherwise.
The majority of people recall how leaders responded to a crisis and whether or not they took whatever steps were necessary to resolve the issue.
Johnson and Johnson went to great lengths to secure the safety of their consumers, and their story is now told in every business book ever written as a shining example of how to "make things right."
Use whatever crisis you're going through right now to make the change you've always wanted to make.