Friday, January 5, 2007

No profile in leadership

Back in 2003, when I was writing a management column for Business 2.0, I wrote a rather negative review of Rudolph Giuliani's Leadership. Now that he seems poised to run for president, I thought it would be timely to reprint it. The original is still here.

BARELY MANAGING
Leadership Here
Rudolph Giuliani's Leadership lessons are at odds with his actual behavior.
By Jimmy Guterman, January 10, 2003

Before 9/11, publishers wouldn't have looked to New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani to produce a book on leadership. In the year leading up to the attack, Giuliani was most visible for disclosing a serious illness and locking horns with many of the significant people in his life. But Giuliani's behavior on and immediately after 9/11 catapulted him into the role of "America's mayor," a spokesman for a city and country adjusting to a new reality. This period didn't last long -- it ended the moment he floated the idea of changing a law so he could retain power -- but it was enough to elevate Giuliani to the status of celebrity hero. And in our culture, a celebrity hero can publish a book about leadership, put his picture on the cover, and place the name of the actual writer in small print beneath his own.

Giuliani's Leadership, written in collaboration with Ken Kurson, is the first of two books he's contracted to write for Miramax, a division of Walt Disney, but is itself two books in one. Chapters about 9/11 and beyond constitute the bulk of the book, elaborating on leadership maxims, nearly all of which anyone who's thought about management for five minutes knows already. Sample non-insight: "Making the right choices is the most important part of leadership." This is a celebrity autobiography with alleged leadership lessons as an overlay, not a serious book about management.

Giuliani may go down in history for 9/11, but his reports of that day in Leadership won't burnish his legacy. He writes of scrambling to have police protect both his wife and his mistress, worrying that he and his loved ones, past and present, might be targets. This aside reveals that Giuliani thinks everything is about him. Throughout the book, Giuliani returns often to the subject of 9/11, providing some relief from master-of-the-obvious observations like "Decision-making would be easy if it were always a choice between good and evil or right and wrong. In the real world, leaders have to make decisions that are multidimensional, usually between two or more imperfect remedies, on criteria that encompass long-range goals and plausibility." In other words, decision-making can be difficult. What an insight! So I can save you $25.95. Here's a list of Giuliani's aphorisms: "Have beliefs and communicate them. See things for yourself. Set an example. Stand up to bullies. Deal with first things first. Loyalty is the vital virtue. Prepare relentlessly. Underpromise and overdeliver. Don't assume a damn thing."

Leadership is about strength, but it is also about expressing strength through humility. In Leadership, Giuliani presents the softer, more human side of himself. Nowhere here are we confronted with the angry prosecutor who kicked off his first mayoral candidacy with an obscenity-laden speech calculated to endear him to protesting police officers. But, as with other celebrity leadership books where the text is at odds with the behavior of the author [think Sunbeam's Al Dunlap or General Electric's Jack Welch], you need to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Shortly after the publication of the kinder, gentler Leadership, city officials, trying to close a $3 billion-plus shortfall caused in part by spending during the Giuliani administration, asked the former mayor to cut back on his security detail: He had 16 police detectives, who cost more than $1 million per year, performing such crucial tasks as driving Giuliani's fiancée to the Hamptons so she could water her flowers. That's a perk most CEOs would enjoy. But Giuliani held on to it, at public expense, even after returning to a lucrative private career. That's no lesson in leadership.

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