Rumsfeld on Meetings

images-2Sometime today Donald Rumsfeld’s new book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War and Life, will hit the streets. The Wall Street Journal ran an essay this past weekend highlighting some pithy features of the book.

Rumsfeld served as the Secretary of Defense under both Gerald Ford and George W. Bush. He was also a four term congressman from Illinois and once served as White House Chief of Staff. It goes without saying that he has had a lot of experience as a participant in meetings and as a leader of meetings. We all know that meetings can be the death of leadership.

As I read the WSJ essay I was struck by the highly practical nature of the principles that Rumsfeld laid out for leadership digestion. Here are his eight rules for highly successful meetings. If you would like to see the article in its entirety you may do so here.

1. Whether to call a meeting at all. If you call a meeting, be sure you have something to learn or something to communicate–that is worth everyone’s time.

2. When you decide to call a meeting, avoid meandering sessions. Rumsfeld kept a stand up desk so that when people met with him there was not the temptation to stay longer than necessary. Keep meetings as brief as possible and on point.

3. Pay close attention to who is invited. One of the worst things that leaders do is invite way too many people to a meeting. Invite only the people that will help you learn what you must or provide you with the right audience for your message. Get the right people in the room.

4. Start and end the meeting on time. It is amazing how this one principle is so violated. You are not only wasting your time but the collective time of everyone in attendance. That is a lot of wasted time.

5. Encourage others to give their views, even if it means ruffling some feathers. There is not reason to call a meeting of key people if you are only going to hear what you expect. You need to hear what people are thinking and their best ideas, even if they are contrarian. “Foster a culture where people can comment on anything as long as it is relevant and constructive.”

6. Don’t put up with irrelevance or unpreparedness. Rumsfled argues for people always being prepared and on topic. He notes that he has dismissed meetings many times until people were better prepared.

7. When new ideas are broached in a meeting be ready for instinctual and immediate opposition. Meetings need to be about discovery and avoiding group think. It is easy to create a self serving culture. If everyone immediately sees an idea as brilliant, then maybe it is time for more disent.

8. When ending a meeting be sure to make a summary of salient points and take aways, making sure that everyone knows their action points. This is the key to execution–and hopefully a successful next meeting.

Here is the Amazon link to Donald Rumsfeld’s new book. What are your thoughts on successful meetings?

3 replies
  1. Brad O'Brien
    Brad O'Brien says:

    We in the army are continually analyzing leadership abilities: our own and those of our peers and subordinates as well. Meetings can be eternal and non stop back to back. These are some good bullet points. Steve Jobs had similar rules. Thanks for posting this


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