'America's Mayor' explains what it takes to be an effective leader
"America's Mayor"—Rudolph Giuliani—highlighted the AVMA General Session, July 19, sharing his personal principles of leadership that guided him through two terms as mayor of New York City, a bout with cancer, and the most horrific attack on U.S. soil.
Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. and the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau co-sponsored the event.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Giuliani showed himself to be a consummate leader. His tireless efforts to heal his wounded city inspired a grieving nation.
Leadership is the ability to get through life's difficulties, Giuliani explained. When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago, Giuliani found that the leadership principles he applied to his career also worked in his personal life. These principles can be used by anyone. The first leadership principle is knowing what you believe.
"You have to have a philosophy," Giuliani said. "If you don't, you go through life rudderless."
He recommended modeling one's self after great leaders. Former president Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King Jr. are political role models.
Reagan always knew what he believed, and his philosophy wasn't influenced by public opinion. King, through a philosophy of nonviolent confrontation, showed America its hypocrisy about race.
"When I had to deal with prostate cancer, when I had to deal with an attack on my city, on our country, I had to go back to what I believe," Giuliani explained.
The second leadership principle is optimism. "People follow hope," said Giuliani, describing optimism as a discipline. It's not about ignoring difficulties but training oneself to be a problem solver.
Reagan and King were optimists, Giuliani said. King didn't just focus on racism but he inspired people with his dream and showed them how to overcome.
The third principle is courage. Most people think they don't have this quality. Courage isn't the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome fear to do what you have to do. A fireman who rushes into a burning building and isn't afraid is insane, not courageous, Giuliani said.
The fourth principle is relentless preparation. Fresh out of law school, Giuliani learned that the unanticipated will always happen, but if you're well-prepared, you can handle any contingency.
Giuliani recounted his first encounter with the attacks on the World Trade Center. "My first reaction was this was beyond anything we prepared for," he said.
New York City had some 30 emergency plans for any number of incidents, from bioterrorism to a plane crash. "But we didn't have a plan for what to do when two planes are used as missiles," Giuliani said.
And yet, city officials were able to use aspects of existing emergency plans to organize rescue-and-recovery efforts, provide shelter for the displaced, restore power, and so on.
The fifth leadership principle is teamwork. One of the temptations a leader can succumb to is self-importance. Leaders are also prone to ignoring their weaknesses. "The reality is, if you're ever put in charge of anything, your first reaction should be humility," Giuliani advised.
To be effective, leaders must know what their weaknesses are and then offset them with people who excel in those areas.
As an example, Giuliani talked about how he had gotten to know President Bush while he was still governor of Texas. Shortly after 9/11, Giuliani remembers saying to himself, "Thank God, George Bush is president."
His confidence was based on Guiliani's knowing the president's character and how the president had compensated for his weaknesses by assembling a highly qualified cabinet comprising Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Giuliani recalled that when he was first elected mayor, New York City had major crime and economic problems. As a former U.S. attorney, he felt confident about his ability to handle crime, but he wasn't an economist. So he brought together experts whom he deferred to on fiscal matters.
Leaders should ask themselves: what are my strengths? what are my weaknesses? and how do I compensate for them?
The final leadership principle is communication. If you adhere to the first five principles, the sixth should come easily, Giuliani explained.
As a final bit of advice, Giuliani said leaders have to love people. A rule of thumb is, "Weddings are discretionary, funerals necessary," meaning leaders must help people when they're hurting.
Giuliani concluded his address with words of encouragement.
"A lot of people think that America and the world are more dangerous now," he said. "It isn't. There's always been risk but we're doing something about it."