BOOK REVIEW: “Leadership” by Rudolph W. Giuliani (2003)

leadership textBe not afraid of greatness,” says Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” 

To some extent, Rudolph “Rudy” Giuliani did have greatness thrust upon him.  Though he was a prominent politician, and already having been mayor of New York since 1994, it was on those terrible moments, on the morning of September 11th, 2001, that Giuliani gained international attention for his leadership.  For those who witnessed the events that day or saw them recounted on the TV, the memories of Giuliani walking up Manhattan with his team as devastation all around, giving orders, remains one of the most profound images of the day.  It was for this that he was named Time Person of the Year in 2001 and received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.



The broken window theory led to an overall fall in the rate of crime in New York.

Leadership, written in 2003, is set out in 15 chapters, to give what the former mayor of New York considers to be the essentials of being a good leader.  Each chapter is a clear and logical idea.  “First things First; Reflect, then decide; “Underpromise and Overdeliver.” 

During his time as mayor, Giuliani had set about cleaning up the city, which had become one of the most dangerous places to live in the 1970s and the 1980s.  He was a great fan of the broken window theory, which says that, if you leave a broken window in a building and do not fix it, eventually the whole building, and then the whole street, will become destroyed.  In other words, you should, as he says, sweat about the small stuff.  To that extent, Giuliani set about dealing with what seemed to be a small problem to most people- stopping people riding on the subway for free.  The book shows how this policy eventually led to an overall fall in the rate of crime in New York as a whole- not just for the metro, but violent crime, drug crime, etc. 

businessman argue

Leaders should encompass by people who ensure plurality of views.

It is a simple and easy to read book and it gives some useful advice to anybody coming into a role of leadership.  Giuliani states that, whenever you start any kind of new endeavor or job, you should look to have a clear and decisive victory as early as possible.  This doesn’t have to be a major initiative, but to show everyone, including your detractors, that you’re actually getting things done.  The book advocates relentless planning, so you can actually be prepared for the unexpected.  It tells leaders that they should not surround themselves with people who only agree with them; rather, they should get a plurality of views.  Above all, it says that leaders should welcome being accountable and be willing to take responsibility.  This will build confidence in those that work for you. 

bad to worse

Leaders usually between two or more imperfect remedies.

Giuliani is quite open about the difficulties of leadership.  However good your ideas, he admits, there will always be someone that thinks they are losing out.  There may even be a strategic advantage of delaying an announcement of what you’re up to, until the last possible moment.  This may mean that you can announce good results, rather than intentions and promises that people will not believe in.  Decision making, says the former mayor, would be easy if it was always a choice between good and evil, or right and wrong.  In the real world, however, leaders have to make decisions that are multidimensional, usually between two or more imperfect remedies.


giuliani speaking

Giuliani: Preparation is the key to give an excellent speech.

For anyone afraid of public speaking, Giuliani also gives some great advice- this coming from a person that will have given thousands of public speeches.  Most politicians admit that they thought public speaking would be easy until they started doing it, and then realize just what a difficult task it is.  Giuliani admits that he has the same views.  Again, preparation becomes the key to success.  He admits writing out his speeches and then learning as much as possible so that he can speak from notes, rather than reading a script.  This gave him the ability to connect more easily with the people he was talking to.  He even advocates doing something relaxing for yourself, just as John F. Kennedy did before a really important speech. 

Interestingly, Giuliani quotes Sir Winston Churchill as being one of his sources of inspiration.  It is often forgotten now that Giuliani himself was quite unpopular towards the end of his term in office, and history may have judged him differently, had it not been for those infamous 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers.  Churchill, to some extent, had the same history.  Had it not been for the Second World War, Churchill would have been judged as a second rate, middle-ranking politician.  It was the crisis and the desperation of the times that gave them both the opportunity to show their leadership qualities.  This book may be 10 years old now, but it is still worth a read. 

Giuliani on leadership

Interesting Quotes

Whenever I started a new endeavor, I looked to have a clear, decisive victory as early as I could.

340x_340x_giuliani-fingerNo leader can know everything about a system. A confident one won’t hesitate to seek advice-publicly and privately-from those more expert in an area affecting the enterprise.

You don’t want to micromanage or undermine the authority of the good people you’ve hired, but on occasion there’s no substitute for first hand experience.

Every leader, whether in government or business or elsewhere, needs to internalize the idea that being open and honest about the enterprise is always the best course. Whenever there’s doubt about whether to make public a damaging fact, err on the side of the disclosure.

Early in one’s career, academic performance may be worth noting because there’s little else to measure; but that cannot compare to looking at what a person has accomplished elsewhere in his or her life.

A decisive leader can sometimes appear as though he never questions what his next move should be. Faced with tough decisions, I sometimes endure excruciating periods of doubt and soul-searching and, as I said, I always try to play out the results of each alternative. However, once I make the decision I move forward.

Statistics businessman

Decisions require statistical analyses and intuitive reasoning.

Important, complicated decisions require both statistical analysis and intuition. Statistics can provide the necessary data, but unless you apply your own intuition, gathered from your own experience, you are just a computer spitting out formulas.

Words are enormously important to me. I love to read and I love language, the sheer pleasure of words in the right order. Choosing one word over another is an important act.

In 1958, Lyndon Johnson wrote an article for Texas Quarterly, “My Political Philosophy.” A line from it made an impression on me: “I am a free man, an American, a United States Senator, and a Democrat, in the order…”

Embracing those who are attacked serves two functions. First, it reassures those who work for you and those you want to recruit to work for you. You won’t abandon them. You won’t betray them at the first sign of trouble. Second, by showing the world that you’ll hug a vilified employee that much closer, you remove the incentive to attack. 

The truth is, you can’t fake expertise. People pick up that kind of pretense right away and will take advantage of your ignorance or dismiss you outright as a dilettante. But when they know you do your homework and expect you to bring your own knowledge to the table, they’re less likely to try to mislead you. You’ll notice your staff showing up at meetings better prepared, putting more care into their presentations.

vision and mission

The first question is always, “What’s the mission?”

The first question is always, “What’s the mission?” Ask yourself what you’d like to achieve-not day-to-day, but your overarching goal. Then assess and analyze your resources.

I was sitting in campaign headquarters going over a position paper when suddenly he grabbed me by the arm and said, “Look, son, every minute you spend here you’re not getting any votes. The people here are already going to vote for you, and if they don’t they’re crazy to be here. So get out into the streets. Those are the people we have to convince.”

There are plenty of times when a leader is forced to deal with those he is not sure about, or perhaps whose company he doesn’t even enjoy. You owe it to those who rely on you to deal with whoever is best able to serve their interests, but you have to set at least minimum standards. As Ronald Reagan put it, trust but verify.

See also:

Other Book Reviews

How to be like me

The Guardian: “At first, he makes the messy process of governing New York sound like a simple management case study. “I tried to run the city as a business,” he writes, “using business principles to impose accountability on government.” During his first year in office, like some exemplary corporate superman, he worked “every single weekend”; in subsequent years, “I took no weeks off”.”

A Review of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s Leadership

Hub Pages: “One of the most fascinating of Giuliani’s leadership practices is his development of personal courses on issues that will affect his work. He calls this an “educational strategy” and writes “…whenever I wanted to learn something, I tried teaching it to myself”

Book Review: Leadership by Rudy Giuliani

Pole Position Marketing: “Much of the book focuses on the aftermath of 9/11, but it’s not a chronological narrative. Giuliani breaks the book into chapters, each outlining a leadership principle that helped him through his careers both as prosecutor and as mayor, and architect of the 9/11 recovery.”

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Greater Leadership

Education and Empowerment: “I reflect on the foundations of what it means to be a great leader quite often.  How do I inspire? How do I appreciate and congratulate? How do I hold people accountable in ways in which their personal worth is still recognized?  This question of leadership is one of the questions with which I am consistently grabbling.”


Filed under Book Review, Leadership, Management, Media, New York, Politics, Strategy, USA

6 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: “Leadership” by Rudolph W. Giuliani (2003)

  1. Am great post, my friend! Thanks. 😃

  2. This is a very great post,thanks so much.

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