Seeding a Simple Dream: Do No Harm
I grew up in a really small town, Moodus, Conn. I don't think when I walked down Main Street there was anybody I saw whose name I didn't know. That shaped me. I really do feel this unrealistic sense of knowing people. It's really weird. I have this experience flying-when I look down and I see the farms of Kansas below me, I have this little bit of surprise that I don't know everybody's name.
Effective leaders know their deficiencies. How do you address yours?
I don't feel like a leader, so it's very hard for me to project myself into that situation. But inattention to detail is my biggest defect. I'm always leaning forward into something new. I can create a mess. Luckily, I have people who are willing to create the detail around the idea or, if they're really smart, know which ideas to ignore.
The second defect is more personal uncertainty than you would probably believe. Every time I put an idea out, despite my enthusiasm, I'm very, very unsure about whether it's OK or not. And the third is that I want everyone to like me, and yet I'm aware that when you're pushing for change, that isn't always going to happen. To be more effective as a leader, I would probably want to thicken my skin.
Do you think there's less good leadership today than there once was?
Yes, I do. I don't know why, but people are getting their compass from their polling data and from their concern about what will be thought, or staying in power, and, man, I don't think that's leadership. I just think you've got to say: We are going here. If you're wrong and nobody follows you, that's OK.
How do you create a sense of mission in the people who work for you?
You're implying I show up in the room and say, "Today I'm going to inspire people." That's not how it goes with me. But I've learned about projecting optimism. Hope. There is a way out here. We can do this. Anything's possible. I really do believe this.
Have you made missteps that just made you put on the brakes and tell yourself, "I screwed up"?
The screw-ups that eat at me are when I have been inadvertently disrespectful of someone. I know points in a speech or in a meeting where I've hurt somebody with inappropriate humor or being insensitive or inattentive. [But] the biggest mistake I made that still eats at me is scoring a basket for the wrong team. I once did that in a basketball game. Oh, my God.
How do you organize your working day?
Badly right now. My day is largely reactive. I try to get dug out all day long, as if one could ever get dug out. The one thing I do is I negotiate with my assistants to establish what I call writing days. On writing days, I go to the public library in my town. I always go to the same carrel, and I sit there at 9 or 9:30, and I won't get up except to go to the bathroom until 5:30 or 6.