Another book on leadership? Did we really need Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, to add his voice, his perspective, and his opinions to this over-crowded field? Does Giuliani’s Leadership add anything new or original to our knowledge of leadership, or our understanding of what it takes to be a leader? The answer to these questions is, no. This book provides ample evidence that demonstrating considerable leadership skills does not necessarily make one an expert on leadership.
Giuliani spent eight years as mayor of New York City. He went about the business of governing a place that was considered by many to be ungovernable with confidence and the steely will that one would expect from a man whose training for the job had come principally as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office. But just as Giuliani’s tenure was nearing its end, September 11, 2001 occurred. If ever a time called for leadership, that day, and the days and weeks that followed did — and Giuliani showed even his most ardent critics that he was equal to the task.
He led the people of his city, and indeed, the people of the U.S., in every way: in grieving for the victims, in anger against the perpetrators, and in an unyielding will to rebuild and carry on. All eyes, hearts, and minds turned to Giuliani and remained there until he completed his term as mayor some 90 days later.
What prepares a person to step into a role for which no one could adequately prepare? Giuliani does not tell us. After reading Leadership, we know how much he loves New York City, we know how he organized his days, we know how important his morning staff meeting was, we know how important he considered loyalty, and we know how driven he was. We know about his treatment for prostate cancer. We even learn a little about his relationship with Judith Nathan following the dissolution of his marriage to Donna Hanover. But he doesn’t tell us that much about what he found helpful in preparing himself for leadership. And despite the boatloads of books experts crank out on the subject every year, Giuliani cites no leadership book as having had any impact on him.
Rather, he tells us of those people in his life who helped shape his character, his beliefs, and his unique style. Chief among them was Lloyd MacMahon, a federal district judge in New York. MacMahon was part boss, part critic, part teacher, and part mentor. Giuliani worked for MacMahon as his law clerk following his graduation from law school. Those two years may well have been the defining years in Giuliani’ s life.
This book is apparently the first of two books which Giuliani has been handsomely paid to write. The second book will be his memoirs, and that book promises to help us learn more about what this man learned, what he considers important, and from where he draws strength. We occasionally get a few glimpses of the human side of Rudy in this book, but what comes through is a rambling portrait of a man who is disciplined, organized, thorough, and knows what he wants.
His lessons on leadership are, for the most part, platitudinous maxims that we have read in dozens of others books and articles: “Surround yourself with great people. 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.” To this list he adds a poignant lesson learned following 9/11: the importance of going to funerals.
Giuliani provides us with statistics to support his claim of leadership. He was especially proud of his efforts to reduce crime in New York City. Statistics in every major category of crime dropped each year during his two terms as mayor. He also took great pride in thinning the city’s welfare rolls by establishing a so-called workfare program to help long-term welfare recipients learn skills that would make them employable. He was an effective mayor, but his success begs the question of whether he was an effective manager and administrator, or whether his success was due to his leadership. We know his answer, but somehow we remain unconvinced even as we admire the results.
Giuliani captures the weakness of this book in his statement, “Leadership does not simply happen. It can be taught, learned, developed. There are many ways to lead and ultimately, you’ll know what techniques and approaches work best — those you hope to lead will tell you. Much of your ability to get people to do what they have to do is going to depend on what they perceive when they look at you and listen to you. In other words, leadership varies from person to person, and what worked for Rudy Giuliani may not work for those who read this book.
Winston Churchill found himself called to lead his nation in a time of crisis and rose to the occasion. A decade following the war, however, when Churchill served again as prime minister, he was widely regarded as ineffectual. Rudy Giuliani was the right man with the right skills in a particular time and place, and he does have a compelling story to tell, especially following the events of September 11. He might have been better served, however, had he waited a few years to write this particular book. The risk, of course, is that he might fade from the scene, and then who would buy his book? But then again, aren’t true leaders always ready to take risks?