E70 - Book Review of James Comey's A Higher Loyalty

You won’t learn anything new about the now famous incident where President Trump sacked the then FBI director, James Comey. In fact, less than a third of the book deals with the interaction with Trump. This is what you will get out of the book:

A high profile leader looking at his early influences, good and bad, in shaping his values and models for leadership. One of the most impactful leaders was a supervisor in a grocery store. That gentleman showed patience, composure, and understanding.

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Key messages from the book:

Listening is a core skill for leaders. Comey worked with George W Bush, Obama, and Trump. He said the differences in listening were significant. Obama in particular was a deep listener. Obama, Comey says, was keen to explore the other person’s perspective, to really understand the why and how of opinion. He also shared his perspective in an invitation for the other person to consider another viewpoint. It was a real push and pull respectful interaction. Trump on the other hand was a different story. Trump conversations were much more one way - it was hard to get air time, and there was not much interest in a dissenting opinion.

Be confident enough to be humble. Comey says Obama was one such a leader. Confident enough in himself to invite other opinions, to explore perspective. That takes courage to be vulnerable and open to changing opinion. Less confident people hang on tight to their opinions.

A higher loyalty is commitment to values. As an author myself of a book called Loyalty, I was keen to read Comey’s view. He contrasts the blind loyalty to individuals, such as those demanded by tyrants, mobsters, and liege lords, with loyalty to bigger principles. Comey compares the loyalty expected by a mob boss - where you swear loyalty to the Don - to the loyalty expected by Trump, a similar type of personal loyalty. Comey discussed a private interaction with Trump in a Senate hearing in to the Russian investigations. He reports that Trump asked twice for loyalty from Comey. Comey found this confronting as he felt Trump was expecting personal loyalty to override his duties as FBI director. In response to ‘I expect loyalty,’, Comey replies, ‘You will always have my honesty.’ For Comey, loyalty is commitment to the institution of the FBI and its principles of being an apolitical, independent service to the American people.

Comey’s book is definitely worth the read. It’s a great example of a leader in a high pressure, high profile position required to make tough calls, guided by his values. Two thumbs up!

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