Bush, Obama and the Mythology of Leadership

The real power of leadership may be held in the system. And followers must hold the leader accountable.

THE SMALL MOUNTAIN OF rubble had been Manhattan’s two tallest buildings, a silhouette that made New York’s skyline unmistakable. The twin towers also stood as a proxy for American power, so their fall echoed the sound of cataclysm in American history.

Three days later, on September 14, 2001, President George W. Bush climbed atop that small mountain and, hugging a retired fireman and handed a megaphone, searched for – and eventually found – the words to rally a nation in the wake of unprecedented tragedy.

“I can hear you, the world hears you, and soon the people who knocked these buildings down will hear us all!”

The crowd resounded in approving applause, and his escalating 3-part rhetoric became a famous cry of empathy, inspiration, and retribution. For those at the base of the mound of debris, it was a soaring siren of leadership.

But that was not how it started.

In researching our book “Leaders: Myth and Reality” (with co-authors Stan McChrystal and Jason Mangone), I interviewed President Bush and asked him about this now-iconic moment, and he confided that it had surprised him. The dust had scarcely settled over downtown Manhattan, and Bush arrived without a script, sound system or tele-prompters. Making do, Bush started by offering a few unscripted points with a megaphone, such as “America stands with you on bended knee.” Nonetheless, the president struggled to be heard and connect with his audience.

Then, quite unexpectedly, a cascade of happenstance unfolded. Someone in the crowd yelled out earnestly, “George, we can’t hear you,” capturing Bush’s attention. Instinctively, the president offered a simple but direct response through the megaphone: “I can hear you!”

It was at that moment that the crowd erupted – for the first time – in a cheering applause. President Bush recalled feeling that he was “surfing the psychology of the crowd.” Discussing this moment in hindsight, it was less important that they couldn’t hear him – what now mattered more was that they were being heard. The crescendo of their applause reflected the arrival of leadership, catalyzed simply by a leader becoming responsive to his context.

Nearly a decade after President Bush climbed up that mountain of rubble to rally a nation to war, his successor climbed down a massive red-carpeted stairwell with hopes of winding that war down. On May 6, 2011, President Barack Obama debarked Air Force One and was greeted by Admiral Bill McRaven on the tarmac at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. McRaven had been leading the nation’s counter-terrorism war, and the president’s trip was a discrete visit to receive a briefing on a not-so-discrete mission: the raid that killed Bin Laden.

Then a member of the president’s staff, I accompanied him on the trip and looked on from the tarmac as the pair of men stepped into the president’s over-sized limo for the short ride to the facility where the president presented awards to those who conducted the mission. Several dozen SEALs were seated in rows of folding chairs on the right side of the room, while the Army helicopter crews that flew the mission sat in rows to their left. After the ceremony was complete, a smaller group of operators, military leaders and the president’s staff moved to a side room where a mock-up “sand table” of the target “objective,” bin Laden’s hideout, had been arranged for the debrief.

<strong>We often think of leadership as simply what leaders do. In reality, leadership is driven by context and followers as much as it is delivered by leaders.</strong>

Flying back to DC later that evening, I asked the president for his reflections, many of which surprised me. For instance, the president was struck by the fact that few of the operators looked like what you might expect from Hollywood central casting. The president also took note that the team leader did not dominate the debrief. Rather, when given the floor, the team leader stepped back and said simply: “Mr. President, the team will now debrief you,” allowing others to explain, as a collective, what they had done.

It was striking to the world’s most powerful leader because it was to see another leader resist the irresistible. Even for a first-tier special operations officer, this kind of opportunity was beyond once in a lifetime. And yet, he relinquished the spotlight all the same.

This kind of approach is often referred to as “servant leadership,” wherein leaders achieve results by putting their people first. Humble leaders are especially effective by leveraging the raw power of intrinsic motivation, letting people own their decisions and actions, which drives both productivity and creativity. And while it is known to be effective, servant leadership is relatively rare, and it is often misunderstood.

For instance, where servant leadership does occur within military special operations teams, it is not for the reasons one might assume. It is not because it is generous, or even because it is effective. The explanation is far simpler – it is the approach tolerated by the followers.

I once caught up with the SEAL team leader who led the mission and whose muted debrief style had been memorable to the president that day. I asked him why and how he chose his leadership style. Interestingly, he didn’t point to any book he had read, or to a leadership course he had taken. Rather, his response was simply to ask “how else would you lead a team like that?” In other words, and perhaps surprising to outsiders, authoritarian SEAL leaders don’t last long.

Leadership studies often emphasize this connection between servant leadership and high-performing teams, but they often confuse the direction of causation. Servant leaders may yield high-performing teams, but the converse is equally the case: high-performing teams often demand servant-styled leaders.

Making the World a More Sustainable Place

The CEO of Sustainable Energy for All aims to make energy accessible across the globe.


ACCORDING TO RACHEL Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, energy is the foremost issue that must be tackled before progress can be made in other areas such as health care and education. Kyte spoke about Sustainable Energy for All’s mission at the 2019 World Economic Forum.


Kyte previously served as World Bank Group vice president and special envoy for climate change, leading integration of climate across World Bank Group’s work. Before that, she was vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank. Kyte’s current positions as CEO of Sustainable Energy for All and special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All allow her to advocate for and mobilize action towards the global goal of sustainable development.


Sustainable Energy for All can be traced back to a question asked by then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2010: “Why are we not all working on energy, and what are the big energy issues?” Even before the landmark Paris Agreement, Sustainable Energy for All had committed itself to ensuring universal access to energy, improving the energy efficiency rate and doubling the share of renewable energy around the world.


Sustainable Energy for All works on both a micro and macro level, helping people gain access to energy in an affordable fashion and facilitating the adoption of cleaner energy practices by more powerful actors with energy-intensive operations. “[Sustainable Energy for All] is born of the idea that we can decarbonize the energy mix and provide energy to everyone affordably and reliably, and that those two things are not in competition,” Kyte said.

As the leader of a global organization, Kyte leads by listening to and understanding the unique voices of those she seeks to help before taking action. That being said, she has witnessed a “universality” of the need for sustainable energy infrastructure. Regardless of different cultures and languages, “a reliable, affordable energy system” is key to helping people address other priorities like jobs or health care.

Everyday citizens might view sustainable energy as too complex or intimidating of a challenge to tackle on their own, but Kyte believes there is power in the choices made on a daily basis, no matter how seemingly insignificant. “Just one action by you, multiplied by millions, is a shift,” Kyte said.

Leading the Charge for Gender Equity

Zero Gap’s CEO is bringing men and women together to close the gender gap.

CLOSING THE GENDER GAP isn’t solely a “woman’s issue” – it’s a human issue. Sarah Gerber, co-founder and CEO of Zero Gap, spoke about her company’s efforts to unite men and women around the issue of the gender gap at the 2019 World Economic Forum.

In addition to Zero Gap, Gerber founded the boutique production studio Twenty Twenty Studios. As the executive producer of Twenty Twenty Studios, she has produced award-winning documentaries and traveled the world capturing compelling, mission-driven stories. Gerber also advances gender parity in workplace culture through her work at Zero Gap.

Zero Gap was launched in 2017 with the aim of shifting the narrative of the gender gap to include men, not just women, in the conversation. Instead of framing the issue as a problem that women must solve alone, Zero Gap urges both men and women to get informed and empowered about challenging inequality in the workplace. “It’s about everyone being able to engage in it,” Gerber said. “It’s going to benefit everyone, not just a subset of people.”

For all the talk about creating more inclusive workplaces in recent years, the gender gap remains largely intact. Gerber identified “siloed conversations” and anxiety about change as central factors in the slow pace of progress. Zero Gap helps eliminate invisible barriers and fears by arranging 50/50 dinners comprised of an equal ratio of women to men that provide a space for everyone to communicate about, reflect on and embrace the changes that need to be made. Leaders, Gerber said, should be the ones creating those spaces in which people can be “brave” about sharing and learning.

Zero Gap’s guiding principle – unity over division – can be applied to leadership as well. According to Gerber, elevating and listening to as many voices as possible is an essential component of successful 21st century leadership. Initiatives with too narrow an audience, for example, won’t be as effective in changing the culture of a company as programs that involve a broader scope of employees. Zero Gap’s mission asks a question that Gerber believes leaders should ask themselves: “How are you making it an inclusive conversation rather than a siloed conversation?”


Global economic growth to reach fastest rate in seven years while UK economy expected to slump, says PwC forecast

Global economic growth will pick up to its fastest rate in seven years in 2018, while the UK’s economy slumps to its weakest expansion since the last recession, according to the latest forecast from PwC.

The accountancy and professional services firm’s forecasts are for global growth to hit 3.7 per cent in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms next year, the most rapid expansion, by this metric, since 2011.

PwC said that, for the first time since 2010, it is revising its global growth forecast upwards, bolstered by a robust cyclical recovery in the eurozone and stronger growth in the US.


But PwC expects Brexit related-uncertainty to leave the UK on the growth sidelines next year, with a GDP expansion here of just 1.4 per cent pencilled in for next year.

That would be the weakest output in a calendar year since 2009, when the economy contracted by 4.2 per cent.

“We expect global economic growth to be broadly based in 2018, rather than dependent on a few star performers,” said Barret Kupelian, senior economist at PwC.

“While the growth outlook for 2018 is positive, there are some downside risks for business to bear in mind, including the progress of the Brexit negotiations and wider discussions about the future of the EU.”

PwC’s pessimistic 2018 GDP forecast for the UK is in line with the most recent projection from the Treasury’s official forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility.

In 2017, the UK’s GDP growth is expected to be 1.5 per cent, itself the weakest since 2012.

Activity has been dragged down by a spike in inflation since the June 2016 Brexit vote, induced by the record slump in sterling on the night of the referendum.

That has crimped household spending. Investment has also been frozen by many firms, attributable to uncertainty about trade relations with Europe after Brexit in March 2019.

PwC said that 2018 could see the European Central Bank halt its money-printing programme altogether, rather than just tapering it down, if inflation in the single currency area comes in a little stronger.

Five things to look out for as US interest rates rise this week

This will be a week where interest rates and currencies will climb to the front, though politics retains the capacity to surprise us all.

For a start there will be another rise in US interest rates after the Federal Reserve meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. This will be the first rate-setting meeting chaired by Jerome Powell, so inevitably there will be a focus on what he says about it.

Do not expect any comment on the current administration’s policies, for that would be improper and unwise. But do look for a signal as to whether the Fed is likely to stick to the present expected path of three more rate increases this year. Anything about the strength of the US economy is always important. But most telling of all will be the reaction of the markets.

There are several things to look for here, and not just in America. There is a lot debt around in the world and a gradual return to normal monetary policy means a gradual return not just to higher central bank rates but also to higher long-term rates.

Which countries, which banks and which segments of the market are most vulnerable? For example, should we be more concerned about high-yield bonds, issued typically by higher-risk borrowers? Or should we focus more on sovereign debt? (Will Russia still be able to borrow on the international markets on favourable terms, and if so what does that say about the morality of money?) Or housing debt – though here the UK looks less exposed than some other markets?

There will also be implications for the UK. The Bank of England’s monetary policy committee meets on Thursday and the thing that everyone will be looking for is an indication of whether the next rise in UK rates will be in May, as expected. As well as the implications for the UK housing market, there will also those for the pound.

But the pound’s value is not just about interest rates, for there will also be a key round of Brexit talks, and the question there is simply, is a transition deal in place? If so, expect the pound to strengthen; if not, expect a lurch downwards.

Finally we have a new governor of the People’s Bank of China. The present governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, has been in post for 15 years. His successor is reported to be the deputy governor, Li Gang. If this is confirmed, there will be a general feeling of comfort around the world.

Chinese monetary policy has been managed as skilfully as possible within the wider constraints of the Chinese political system, and the expectation therefore is that this reasonable competence will continue. This year China passes the eurozone to become the world’s second-largest monetary area, with the effect that Chinese capital flows have global impact. There is widely publicised concern over the indebtedness of large swathes of the economy. How that is handled affects us all.

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Global economy shows strong growth but countries must prepare for change, says IMF chief

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde said on Tuesday the global economy was showing broad-based growth, but the landscape was shifting with heightened risks of trade disputes, monetary policy normalisation and technological change.

Ms Lagarde, speaking to an IMF conference in Jakarta in preparation for the Fund’s annual meetings in Bali in October, said the IMF was expecting global growth to reach 3.9 per cent in 2018 and 2019. This is unchanged from the IMF’s forecast in January and up from 3.7 per cent in 2017.

She said ASEAN countries were preparing for higher interest rates in advanced economies such as the United States and Europe, but cautioned that policymakers need to stay vigilant about its effect on financial stability and volatile capital flows.

“We know this will have spillover effects across the world. We have known for some time that it’s coming,” Ms Lagarde said. “It remains uncertain how this transition is going to affect other countries, companies, jobs, incomes.”

ASEAN countries need to embrace new growth models that put a greater emphasis on domestic demand, regional trade and economic diversification and prepare for technological changes such as increased factory automation, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, new financial technologies and digital currencies.

While these could eliminate some jobs, it was important for countries to boost efforts to educate workers to better prepare them to take advantage of new technologies.

“Many jobs will be affected one way or another. Some of them will disappear, but many more will be affected because of automation. So we need to think about the future of work,” Ms Lagarde said, adding that there was no single approach, and many countries will forge their own path.

She highlighted Go-Jek, the fast-growing motorcycle hailing and delivery service in Indonesia as an example of a country-specific technology innovation targeted to the country’s needs and workforce.

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