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A Passion for Leadership
Cover of A Passion for Leadership
A Passion for Leadership
Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service
Borrow Borrow
From the former secretary of defense and author of the acclaimed #1 best-selling memoir Duty, a characteristically direct, informed, and urgent assessment of why big institutions are failing us and how smart, committed leadership can effect real improvement regardless of scale.

Across the realms of civic and private enterprise alike, bureaucracies vitally impact our security, freedoms, and everyday life. With so much at stake, competence, efficiency, and fiscal prudence are essential, yet Americans know these institutions fall short. Many despair that they are too big and too hard to reform.

Robert Gates disagrees. Having led change successfully at three monumental organizations—the CIA, Texas A&M University, and the Department of Defense—he offers us the ultimate insider’s look at how major bureaus, organizations, and companies can be transformed, which is by turns heartening and inspiring and always instructive.

With practical, nuanced advice on tailoring reform to the operative culture (we see how Gates worked within the system to increase diversity at Texas A&M); effecting change within committees; engaging the power of compromise (“In the real world of bureaucratic institutions, you almost never get all you want when you want it”); and listening and responding to your team, Gates brings the full weight of his wisdom, candor, and devotion to civic duty to inspire others to lead desperately needed change.
From the former secretary of defense and author of the acclaimed #1 best-selling memoir Duty, a characteristically direct, informed, and urgent assessment of why big institutions are failing us and how smart, committed leadership can effect real improvement regardless of scale.

Across the realms of civic and private enterprise alike, bureaucracies vitally impact our security, freedoms, and everyday life. With so much at stake, competence, efficiency, and fiscal prudence are essential, yet Americans know these institutions fall short. Many despair that they are too big and too hard to reform.

Robert Gates disagrees. Having led change successfully at three monumental organizations—the CIA, Texas A&M University, and the Department of Defense—he offers us the ultimate insider’s look at how major bureaus, organizations, and companies can be transformed, which is by turns heartening and inspiring and always instructive.

With practical, nuanced advice on tailoring reform to the operative culture (we see how Gates worked within the system to increase diversity at Texas A&M); effecting change within committees; engaging the power of compromise (“In the real world of bureaucratic institutions, you almost never get all you want when you want it”); and listening and responding to your team, Gates brings the full weight of his wisdom, candor, and devotion to civic duty to inspire others to lead desperately needed change.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One 1

    Why Bureaucracies So Often Fail Us

    Everybody hates bureaucracies, even those who work in them. Yet in twenty-first-century America, apart from a handful of hermits and survivalists living off the grid, dealing with impen­etrable, impersonal, infinitely complex, obdurate, arrogant, and often stupefyingly incompetent bureaucracies is an everyday travail for everyone. Think about it: Social Security. Medicare. Local, state, and federal taxing agencies. Getting a driver’s license. Obtaining documents for business, remodeling your house, or getting a building permit. Any federal department or agency. Dealing with the phone company, your credit card issuer, a credit bureau, a billing error by a big chain store. Navigating airport security, health-care insurance, university and public school administrations.
     
    Hardly a day passes in the life of any American without his or her having to confront one or another bureaucracy, standing in line, dialing a telephone number, only to enter an automated laby­rinth seemingly devoid of humans and humanity, being placed on indefinite hold, trying to access a bad government or business Web site, or being shuffled from one office to the next to find that one person, the anomaly, who can fix a problem. Encounters with a bureaucracy almost always have stress and frustration as by-products. And finding someone in a bureaucracy who is pleas­ant and can solve one’s problem quickly is so unusual as to be very nearly a life-altering experience. President Lyndon Johnson once said, “If the first person who answers the phone cannot answer your question, it is a bureaucracy.” Don’t we all know it.
     
    Despite political paralysis in Washington and elsewhere, bureaucracies inexorably—day by day, year by year—intrude ever more pervasively into our daily lives. They influence our health, our safety, our economic well-being, our children, what we eat, what we drive, and every business, farm, and educational institu­tion in the land.
     
    Yet even as bureaucratic tentacles extend their reach into every nook and cranny of America, the litany of their incompetence and arrogance grows exponentially. Many of these institutions are now indispensable, but their repeated and highly publicized sins of omission and commission have shaken the public’s con­fidence that they—that government in particular—can do any­thing right. Just a sampling of lapses and failures in recent years regardless of who was minding the store in Congress or the White House is profoundly disturbing: 9/11 itself, a failure of intelli­gence and law enforcement of monumental consequence; the failure of virtually all our financial regulatory and administra­tive bodies to anticipate and prevent the abuses that led to the financial meltdown in 2008–9; the Federal Emergency Manage­ment Agency’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters; the lack of planning for post-invasion Iraq in 2003; the scandalous treatment of outpatient wounded war­riors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; the multiple failures of the Veterans Affairs Department; challenges to the integrity of the Internal Revenue Service; lapses and scandals of the Secret Service; the initial handling of the Ebola crisis by the Centers for Disease Control; the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare); the ever-changing and inconsistent rules relating to airport security; the extraordinary waste of development dol­lars in Iraq and Afghanistan; underperforming public schools; the inability to control our southern border; and so much...
About the Author-
  • ROBERT M. GATES served as secretary of defense under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. He was also an officer in the United States Air Force and worked for the CIA before being appointed director of the agency. He served eight presidents of both political parties and was a member of the National Security Council staff in four administrations. He was president of Texas A&M University from 2002 to 2006, is currently chancellor of the College of William & Mary, was named president of the Boy Scouts of America in 2013, and has served on several corporate boards of directors.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 19, 2015
    Gates (Duty), a former U.S. secretary of defense, takes a powerful and pragmatic look at leadership in this book, a must-read for anyone who wants to be an agent of change within an organization. Drawing on his experiences at the Defense Department, the CIA, and Texas A&M University, Gates offers leaders “specific ideas and techniques that enable them to successfully reform and improve their organizations.” He goes on to expound on the qualities necessary for leading reform, including having a vision, strategic thinking, attention to implementation, transparency, a respectful attitude, and political finesse with stakeholders. The concepts come to life through Gates’s clear prose and illuminating examples of his own successes and failures, from an unpopular tenure as deputy director for intelligence at the CIA during the early 1980s, to successful efforts to increase diversity at A&M and transparency at the post–Cold War CIA. Readers will be struck by Gates’s humility, humor, and undeniable expertise. This practical, no-nonsense look at leadership will not only provide a useful guide but also serve as an inspiration for young people interested in entering public service. Agent: Wayne Kabak, WSK Management.

  • Kirkus

    October 1, 2015
    The former secretary of defense offers insights into being an effective leader. With an impressive record of service that also includes positions as director of the CIA, president of Texas A&M University, and, currently, chancellor of the College of William and Mary, Gates (Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War, 2014, etc.) knows more than most about being a productive, respected leader. In this informative, entertaining, and useful book, he delves into what it takes to be a leader who can get results without creating unnecessary enemies. He enumerates certain aspects or criteria that are required for someone who wishes to be a trailblazer in the private or public sectors and then backs up these ideas with rich examples from his own work experiences. "The important thing to remember is that in any public or private sector organization, whether it has three million employees or three," he writes, "having a clearly defined and achievable vision]or set of goals]and getting priorities right in moving forward are preconditions for successfully leading change." It's also important to maintain transparency regarding information, to consult with employees at all levels, and to establish methods of accountability. The author's real-life examples are the strongest part of the book, as they show a side of bureaucracy and of upper-level leadership not often revealed to the public. These scenarios give readers a better understanding about how these organizations function. "The task of reforming institutions is a difficult one," writes Gates. "A leader's heart must be on fire with belief in what she seeks to do. Changing institutions is a battle, and she must undertake it with courage, strength, and conviction." By following the author's advice, most aspiring leaders will be able to do so. A concise distillation of more than five decades of leadership knowledge]good reading for all of the 2016 presidential candidates.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2015

    Having held positions as director of the CIA, president of Texas A&M University, and the U.S. secretary of defense, Gates (Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War) brings a depth of perspective and experience to bear on his goal here: helping leaders strengthen their organizations by guiding them to places they don't want to go. Highlighting his successes and failures in various positions, Gates sets the stage for offering valuable insights on organizational change. Imparted in a straightforward way that is similar to that in D. Michael Abrashoff's It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, Gates's passion for leadership is evident in this volume and by his tenure in not one but three once-in-a-lifetime roles. In places the narrative feels like story time with Gates, but those moments are brief, and each leads to a principle that can be applied to real-life situations. VERDICT Solid advice that should be passed on to leaders at any season of life and particularly helpful to those new to such responsibility. Highly recommended for public and academic leadership collections.--Mark Hanson, Maranatha Baptist Univ. Lib., Watertown, WI

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    January 1, 2016
    Is reforming a government bureaucracy actually possible? The former chief of the CIA, Department of Defense, and Texas A & M University resounding declares, yes. From his years at the helms of those very different institutions, Gates distills advice for would-be reformers who face a bureaucratic battlefield. Addressing throughout types of opposition to change inherent in any organization, Gates offers techniques for sidelining or firing deadwood, building internal support, and forging ties to outside influential parties, especially politicians, for whom, readers of his memoir, Duty (2014), will remember, Gates has low regard. On the other hand, he exhibits great esteem for people who help a leader carry out reform, and much of this handbook counsels about finding and hiring such people. Failure to enlist supportive talent, in Gates' view, allows a bureaucracy to mount its most effective resistancewaiting out the always finite tenure of the reformer. Refreshingly free of managerial jargon, Gates' directness, practicality, and palpable optimism will prove encouraging to his audience. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: An author tour and a 300,000-copy first printing presage high demand.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2016, American Library Association.)

  • The Wall Street Journal "The book [politicians] should all admit to reading--and actually read... Refreshingly nonideological... Mr. Gates preaches the value of civility, internal transparency, and work-life balance."
  • Long Island Weekly "Characteristically direct, informed and urgent... [Gates] offers us the ultimate insider's look at how major bureaus, organizations and companies can be transformed, which is by turns heartening and inspiring and always instructive... Gates brings the full weight of his wisdom, candor, and devotion to civic duty to inspire others to lead desperately needed change."
  • Project Management.com "A Passion for Leadership is a book that takes a pragmatic and powerful look at leadership and is a must-read for people who want to bring about a significant transformation within an organization... Boldly demystifies the view that it's difficult to bring about an effective reform mainly in US institutions since they are either too big or excessively onerous... The ultimate insider's perspective."
  • Library Journal, starred review "Advice that should be passed on to leaders at any season of life and particularly helpful to those new to such responsibility. Highly recommended for public and academic leadership collections."
  • Publishers Weekly "[Gates] takes a powerful and pragmatic look at leadership in this book, a must-read for anyone who wants to be an agent of change... Readers will be struck by Gates's humility, humor, and undeniable expertise. This practical, non-nonsense look at leadership will not only provide a useful guide but also serve as an inspiration."
  • Kirkus "Informative, entertaining, and useful... The author's real-life examples... show a side of bureaucracy and of upper-level leadership not often revealed to the public... A concise distillation of more than five decades of leadership knowledge--good reading for all of the 2016 presidential candidates."
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Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service
Robert M. Gates
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