The Decider

President George W. Bush's Decision Points is not, strictly speaking, a book on leadership. But I decided to review it here on the Desperate Pastor blog because it does have much to say about leadership from the man who referred to himself (and invited ridicule and vitriol by doing so) as "The Decider."

As a presidential memoir, Decision Points is a remarkable book. He says he began writing on his first day as a former president and apparently one of his earliest decisions was to make this a book about his decisions. It is not a complete account of his presidency (in the epilogue, he mentions a handful of important decisions he did not cover, such as his decision to create the largest marine conservation areas in the world). But it does give fascinating insight into the most consequential decisions of his life and his eight years in office: quitting drinking, marrying Laura, running for governor and president, choosing Dick Cheney as a running mate and others for key positions, stem cell research, 9/11, the War on Terrorism, Afghanistan, Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, fighting AIDS in Africa, the surge, and the financial crisis,

Throughout, the man's native grace and intellect comes through (that's right--though he was mercilessly portrayed by his enemies and the media as a buffoon, the book describes his decisions in eminently reasonable terms). And also throughout, I was reminded as I read of one of the central truths of leadership: to lead is to decide, and to decide is to invite criticism. George W. Bush's presidency proved that axiom time and time again.

I was astounded to recognize that Bush did not aspire to the Texas governorship nor to the presidency until circumstances and people combined to create a sense of calling to those offices. I was impressed with the president's generosity toward his critics, and his prodigious respect for both his parents. I was surprised when he pointed out that his father, George H. W. Bush, became in 1988 the first man since Martin Van Buren (in 1836!) to be elected to succeed the president he had served as vice president. I was truly grateful to learn of the deliberation, struggle, consideration, and counsel that went into his decisions as president. And I often found myself shaking my head at the stark contrast between the man in these pages and the way he had been portrayed by the American media (if I hadn't already--some time ago--lost all faith in journalism and punditry in this country, I definitely would have after reading these pages).

Leaders of all political stripes can learn from Decision Points. Things like how to structure and staff an organization. How to recover from mistakes. How to earn and keep the loyalty of others. How to respond to criticism (and lies) respectfully. And more. It's an eye-opening and rewarding read, and a book that should make any American proud.

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