A Higher Loyalty: Truth, lies, and leadership by James Comey

133. [Rather than being an aloof, separate, better by being “objectively aloft” leader, he would walk to the cafeteria for lunch. When asked why by Bob Mueller’s admin assistant when walking by her desk:] Because I’m hungry. I’m just gonna run up to the cafeteria. “What if people try to talk to you?” she asked with a bewildered look. I hope they talk to me.” Whenever possible…I walked to the cafeteria. I never wore my jacket. I asked my security detail to stay far enough away from me that people would think I was walking alone. I didn’t want FBI employees to think I needed to be protected from them. [LEADERSHIP IN ACTION – AS THE LEADER CONSIDERS LIFE/THINGS/PERCEPTIONS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF OTHERS] No matter how I felt inside, I tried to walk witha b ounce in my step, standing straight and smiling at those I passed. The way I looked at it, when the directof of the FBI stepped into that cafeteria, hundreds of pairs of eyes turned to look, and every pair was asking, in some form, the same question: “So how are we doing?” The answer from my face and posture had to be: “We’re doing just fine. It’s all going to be okay.”

133. I also never cut the line. Even when I wished I could, or even when I was in a hurry. I stood and waited as people in front of me ordered panini (which takes forever, by the way). I thought it was very important to show people that I’m not better than anyone else. So I waited.

134. I worked at Bridgewater Associates…founder, Ray Dalio, believes there is no such things as negative feedbacck o r psotive feedback; there is only acurate feedback, and we should care enough about each other to be accurate. By avoiding hard conversations….I was depriving them of the chance to grow. My squeamingsness was not only cowardly, it was selfish. If I really care about hte poeple who work for me – if I should be honest , even if it makes me uncomfortable. I should, of course, still consider the best way toto deliver the message. There is a right time, and a right way, for every conversation.

135. Effective leaders almost never need to yell. The leader will have created an environment where disappointing him [or the org; or others; or themselves] causes his people to be disappointed in themselves. “Guilt and affection are far more powerful motivators than fear [and come from within; not without of each of us/them].

137. Transparency is almost always the best course. Getting problems, pain, hopes, and doubts out on the table so we can talk honestly about them and work to improve is the best way to lead. By acknowledging out issues, we have the best chance of resolving them in a healthy way. Buried pain never gets better with age. And by remembering and being open and truthful about our mistakes, we reduce the chance we will repeat them [and hurt others and ourselves; repeatedly; and the repetition compounds the hurt on others and selves – it isn’t the same the 5th time I mistreat you – it’s worse than the first because I’ve forgotten/don’t-care-enough-about-you-to-remember how you told me how I hurt you]. Harry Truman once said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.” Humans tend to do the same dumb things, and the same evil things, again and again, because we forget.

147. [“Obama hunted for points of view.”] I can recall a meeting in the Situation Room about a classified technology topic where President Obama asked some Silicon Valley whiz kid without a tie sitting against the wall what he thought of the discussion the formally dressed leaders of the nation’s military and intelligence agencies had just had at the table. The shaggy dude then contradicted several of us. Obama hunted for points of view. Maybe it was a legacy of his life as a professor, cold-calling someone in the back row. This approach often led to chaotic conversations, but it allowed him to hear views that, in the Bush administration, would have been watered down by rank or by fear….

148. Obama had the ability to really discuss something, leveling the fileld to draw out perspectives different from his own. He would turna nd face the speaker, giving them long periods without interruption to share their view. And although he was quiet, he was using his face, his posture, and sometimes small sounds to draw the person out. He was carefully tracking what they said, something he would prove by asking questions when the finished; the questions were often drawn from throughout the minutes he had been listening.

148. President Obama was also more than willing to discuss things that people weren’t sure he wanted to hear. ….[after Comey made public remarks which were not in-line with Obama’s, Comey was called to Obama’s office and Obama cleared the room for them – Comey thought an ass-chewing was coming]. Instead the president began the meeting by saying, “I asked you to come because I know your head and your heart and I want to udnestand what you are seeing and thinking.” We then spok with easch other for about an hour. And I use the word “with” intentionally. It was a true conversation, with pushing and pulling, pushing and pulling.”

148-149. The president [Obama, in the above one-on-one True Listening/Dialogue with Comey, p. 148] Obama asked a question that invited an open-ended response: “What are you seeing and what’s worrying you?”


149. [Obama’s way of helping someone stop doing bad/harmful to others, including to Obama himself – rather than reacting/hurt-back….Obama provided a growth-path which also healed for those the person hurt]. Comey: I had used the term “weed and seed” to describe what I thought was needed – pulling out the bad guys and working to grown something healthy in the space created by the arrests. He asked, “Can you see how that might sound to black people? Calling young men in their community ‘weeds?” …I responded that it hadn’t occurred to me that people of color might hear my words that way. I hadn’t taken the time to consider how the term “weed and seed” – on we had been using in law enforcement for decades – might strike people, especially black people at a challenging time. I was trapped in my own perspective. A black person – who happened to be president of the United States – helped me see through other eyes.

150-151 [continuing Obama’s depth, see above] “When we were done I was smarter….Our discussion was the total opposite of the Washington listen [where you fake listening while the other person talks and instead get your own talking points ready so you can interrupt them and/or do your thing when “they are done already”]: each of us actually took the time to really understand a different way of looking at something and with a mind open to being convinced. President Obama would never have considered such a conversation if he did not have enough confidence in himself to show humility.

159. [on Obama] I still…can’t think of a national security issues on which we interacted in which he showed an imbalance of confidence and humility.” [In the style of G. Withers – Ben’s note]

156. All of us labor, to one degree or another, under the belief that if other people really knew us, if the knew us the way we know ourselves, they would think less of us.

158. [quoting Margaret Thatcher] “Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerious; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.”

186. [If he had to do it all over again – announcing the second round of investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails – he would no longer bury the lede but rather proceed by saying at the beginning of my statement that we weren’t recommending charges.

188. Speak or conceal.

190. [Decide slowly; act quickly]. The Obama team’s deliberations were, as usual, extensive, thoughtful, and very slow.

207. [How to have expanded openness when using hindsight] I am convinced that if I could do it all again, I would do the same thing, given my role and what I know at the time. But I also think reasonable people might well have handled it differently.

209. [Obama was/is an] extraordinary observer of body language.

209-210. [Obama speaking to, affirming, Comey, after Comey’s handing of Clinton email investigation right before the 2016 election] “I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability,” he said. Then he added something that struck me as remarkable. I want you to know that nothing – nothing – has happened in the last year to change my view.” He wasn’t telling me he agreed with my decisions. He wasn’t talking about the decisions. He was saying he understood where they came from. boy, were those words I needed to hear.

219. …being confident enough to be humble – comfortable in your own skin – is at the heart of effective leadership. That humility makes a whole lot of things possible, none more important than a single, humble question” “What am I missing?” Good leaders constantly worry about their limited ability to see. To rise above those limitations, good leaders exercise judgment, which is a different thing from intelligence. intelligence is the ability to solve a problem, to decipher a riddle, to master a set of facts. Judgment is the ability to orbit a problem or a set of facts and see it as it might be seen through other eyes, by observers with different biases, motives, and backgrounds. It is also the ability to take ka ste of facts and move it in place and time – perhaps to a hearing room or a courtroom, months or years in the future – or to the newsroom of a major publication or the boardroom of a competitor. Intelligence is the ability to collect and report what the documents and witnesses say; judgment is the ability to say what those same facts mean and what effect they will have on other audiences.

221. [BE AWARE OF WHEN YOU ARE BEING HANDLED] ..I sat there tihnking, Holy crap, they [Trump team while they were discussing political/communications strategy/how-to-spin the facts that Comey just gave them to their own advantage] are trying to make each of us an “amica nostra” – friend of ours. to draw us in.

240-241. I can only experience the world through me. That tempts all of us to believe everything we think, everything we hear, everything we see, is all about us. I think we all do this. But a leadership constantly has to train him- or herselt to think otherwise. This is is an important insight for a leader, in two respects. First, it allows you to relatx a bit, secure in the knowledge that you aren’t that important. Second, knowing peole aren’t always focused on you should drive you to try to imagine what they are focused on. I see this as the heart of emotional intelligence, the ability to imagine the feelings and perspective of another “me.”

241. I don’t recall seeing him (Trump) laugh, ever.

243. Ethical leaders never ask for loyalty. [Should have seen all those NDAs as a sign at CUP].

243. [Ethical leaders] have a confidence that breeds humility. Ethical leaders know their own talent but fear their own limitations.

245. [Quoting Thomas More] If honor were profitable, everybody would be honorable.