Management Consultant Mike Eldon

Giuliani and leadership

Over the holidays I read a very impressive book about leadership, whose title is simply Leadership.

Published in 2002, its author was a highly successful mayor of New York. In his book, he takes us through how he approached his job, and as I read it I was not at all surprised by how well he performed.

“Honest and compelling, wise and inspirational,” the back cover extolls.

The man was New York’s mayor from 1994 to 2001, including during the 9/11 tragedy of 2001, and he led New York’s “civic cleanup”, reforming the police department’s administration and policing practices that led to crime rates falling steeply, well ahead of the national average.

After an opening chapter on 9/11, his book is divided into ones that spell out the components of leadership as mayor.

In the first, he tells about the daily morning meetings with his senior colleagues, where they built a high-performance team who aired their issues openly, made fast decisions and followed up on them to ensure implementation.

Then we learn about the importance of preparation; becoming well-informed about key issues in the city; reading and learning; organising around a purpose; being accountable; surrounding yourself with good people; under-promising and over-delivering; standing up to bullies; and dealing with people whom you trust and who share your values.

All good stuff.

Before becoming mayor, he served as the United States Associate Attorney General, and for several years thereafter he was an immensely popular figure who appeared destined for a career at the pinnacle of American business and government.

Then in 2000, he ran against Hillary Clinton for a New York US Senate seat. For his leadership after the September 11 attacks he was called “America’s mayor”; he was named Time magazine’s 2001 Person of the Year, and was awarded an honorary knighthood in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth.

In 2008 he vied for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

You know to whom I am referring: Rudy Giuliani. Now, two decades later, his reputation is in tatters, due to his attachment to Donald Trump and his role in the Ukraine extortion scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment.

Giuliani has appeared unstable and incoherent on cable news, spinning a web of conspiracy theories with Joe Biden at the centre.

He was one of the speakers at the rally preceding the January 6 Capitol attack where he made false claims of voter fraud and called for “trial by combat”, as a result of which his licence to practice law was suspended.

So what happened? Why did he gravitate towards someone like Trump, whose leadership style is in stark contrast to that expounded in Giuliani’s book?

What led to this role model for good leadership becoming a laughing stock and a very lonely man with a drinking problem, who has now been through three troubled marriages, has no relationship with his children and has lost all his friends?

As I looked into the explanation I found that one was similar to what led Trump to degenerate into the dysfunctional character he became.

In a column about Trump a couple of years ago, I wrote that he was the frightened child of a relentlessly critical and bullying father, and now I read that Giuliani’s father was a neighbourhood tough who did time in prison for armed robbery – a possible explanation for the chip Giuliani has carried on his shoulder throughout his career and cramped his self-worth.

A second explanation was his loss in his presidential campaign, where he squandered his image as the statesman-hero and his revenue sources faded.

And yet another came with his third wife, Judith Nathan, a woman with an extravagant taste for luxury.

She introduced him to a jet-set lifestyle and to new people around him, doing everything she could to separate his friends from him and insert hers.

Giuliani described his greatest skill as his ability to surround himself with the right people.

Losing those friends who served as critical guardrails in Giuliani’s life helps explain the situation he finds himself in today.

He developed a lifestyle in search of an income, and there was no shortage of businesses and foreign governments willing to throw money at him.

As for his relationship with Trump, in return, Giuliani wanted to be his Secretary of State, a chance to reclimb to the heights of power.

But Trump thought that Giuliani’s career in law made him a better fit for the job of Attorney General.

Giuliani’s mind was made up though: Secretary of State or nothing. Nothing it was, and now he is more remembered for his embarrassing advocacy on Trump’s behalf.