Be leaders, not just managers, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates told attendees of the closing session at the National Automobile Dealers Association Convention & Expo.
“Leadership is much more than managing well,” he said. “The definition that comes closest is one who guides, who shows the way.”
Gates said that a balanced ego, a clear vision and transparent decision-making are key qualities of the great leaders he encountered during his 26 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, his time as president of Texas A&M and his service on several corporate boards.
Gates identified some traits of bad leaders, like failing to learn and to capitalize from missteps, and micro-managing staffs into ineptitude.
Bad leaders also believe managing is bullying, Gates said. For instance, when he arrived at the Pentagon, he’d been encouraged to “clean house.” He chose not to do so. Instead he evaluated people under new leadership and found that many of them, and the organization they served, thrived.
All good leaders also know when to laugh, Gates said.
“There were two Presidents that had no discernable senses of humor,” said Gates, who worked with eight U.S. Presidents during his career. Those two were Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter, he said. “I leave you to draw your own conclusions.”
Gates joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1966 and spent nearly 27 years as an intelligence professional. During that period, he spent nearly nine years at the National Security Council, The White House, serving four presidents of both political parties.
Gates served as director of Central Intelligence from 1991 until 1993. He is the only career officer in CIA's history to rise from entry-level employee to director. He served as deputy director of Central Intelligence from 1986 until 1989 and as assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser at the White House from January 20, 1989, until November 6, 1991, for President George H.W. Bush.