Advice from Rumsfeld’s Rules
E-Learning Managers and Leaders: What’s the difference?
A high-level leader, like a CEO, focuses on overall strategies for their organization. This may include promoting a particular type of work culture, strategic planning, implementing evaluation and setting the tone for the organization through policy. A manager is a type of leader that, usually in service to the top-level leaders, is charged with implementing and planning more tactical strategies. These tend to be more specific and actionable, such as establishing the process for conducting company meetings, managing projects to achieve goals, and building teams.
Certainly a manager must exhibit leadership qualities in order to successfully do their job. In some companies, the roles of manager and leader may be blended depending on the needs of the organization. However, as noted, differences do lie in how these roles generally approach and implement strategies. And in terms of strategies, Donald Rumsfeld has plenty of advice to give!
Why Donald Rumsfeld?
Rumsfeld’s long and controversial career proves that he is a man who has experience as both a leader and as a manager. Throughout his time spent in both the public and private sectors, Rumsfeld collected “leadership lessons in business, politics, war, and life,” as he describes them in his new book.
In Rumsfeld’s Rules, these lessons—in the form of quotable advice—are for “people at various stages of their lives and careers” to apply in whatever way is needed. Many lessons are connected to political events—not surprising, for a man who spent nearly 40+ years in government service. There are also particularly useful tips for businesses, which Rumsfeld relates to just as easily, having earned a reputation as “one of America’s toughest and most effective” business leaders.
Rumsfeld’s tips regarding meetings, staffing a team, and planning are particularly useful. While the author acknowledges in the prologue that “rules cannot be a substitute for judgment,” the following five nuggets from Rumsfeld’s book can certainly better inform a manager’s judgment and actions.
Management Nuggets: Rumsfeld’s Top 5 Tips
1. Meetings – Be Precise and Productive
Rumsfeld notes, “Not all meetings of course involve the fate of nations, but there are certain lessons that can be applied in any gathering with two or more people where the goal is to make or inform a decision.” Whether faced with conducting an in-person or virtual meeting, this observation also rings true. One of those major lessons, time management, may seem like common sense to a project manager. However, the average office worker feels that “more than half” of their time spent in meetings is wasted.
NUGGET: Managers—or anyone running a meeting, really—should have a goal, circulate an agenda in advance, and then stick to it. If any of those steps are missing, the manager should consider whether holding a meeting at that time is needed. Begin the meeting by reviewing the agenda, and make a point of crossing off items as they are discussed. End the meeting by “summarizing the salient points and takeaways, making sure that all the participants know precisely what actions you intend to be taken and by whom.” To-the-point clarity and providing actionable items is key when running a meeting. By doing so, perhaps the suffering of nearly a quarter of office workers due to “meeting fatigue” will be lessened!
2. Picking Your Team – Aim for the Long-Run
In Rumsfeld’s eyes, aiming for a short-term gain rather than “selecting individuals who could step up and be viable successors” is a mistake that managers can make. He’s even seen it with Presidents! Instead of aiming for conformity and unanimous agreement on every aspect, a good fit for a company can include someone who may have a few “sharp edges,” says Rumsfeld.
NUGGET: When staffing their team, a manager should first consider whether a position needs to be filled in the first place. When the answer is affirmative, a manager would do well to gauge the possibility for promoting from within the company. Rumsfeld writes that this “sends a positive message to current and potential employees that homegrown talent is valued, recognized, and rewarded.” During the hiring process, a manager should consider the long-term success of the organization, and choose individuals who “share their strategic objectives” but can also “challenge their superior to reach a better outcome.”
3. Plan for the Unknowns… and the Unknown Unknowns
There are many predictions a manager can make about a project’s outcome. At every step of the project, there will be items that the team is aware they do not know. The manager must take these “known unknowns” into account when planning and implementing goals.
NUGGET: A manager must always be aware of unknown unknowns. The items that we do not (or cannot) foresee happening that may severely impact a project or team. Rumsfeld’s observation on this particular phenomenon is, “What you see is what you get. What you don’t see gets you.” A manager can encourage the team to think outside of the box when preparing for unknown unknowns and how to address them if they arise. “Leave all options on the table,” advises Rumsfeld. Question the assumptions.
4. Get People Thinking Strategically – Weekly!
Rather than having your team members wait for an issue to appear or a question to come in from a client—a reactive or autopilot organization—Rumsfeld favors an approach in which a leader strategically plans the flow of the work to revolve around their priorities, not the priorities of others. This allows for a more frequent assessment of progress and goals, as well as necessary changes that should not be punted down the road to be an unwelcome surprise for later.
NUGGET: While every manager must address concerns or questions raised by clients and team members, Rumsfeld suggests a foundational change to how these priorities are determined. “The task of a leader is to have an organization work out of his or her outbox,” in order to advance long-term key goals rather than allowing them to be push to the backburner. This means avoiding building a reactive work environment—waiting for problems to arise, basing goals off mostly immediate needs, etc. Instead, a manager should oversee a proactive work environment. To do this, Rumsfeld suggests managers at the beginning of each week send a few memos or chats to employees. It’s easy with email and task management systeems like Asana to create and track these memos electronically. This will lead to better communication about goals as well as a better understanding of how the manager thinks and delegates tasks. Once these are established as priorities for the week, then employees will feel more confident in how to self-organize and complete those tasks as well as unforeseen needs that arise.
5. “Keep Something in the Tank” – Delegate
When there is a clear goal or strategy, as discussed above, “there are a great many combinations and techniques” a manager can use to accomplish it, says Rumsfeld. In the effort to get results at a certain time and at a certain caliber, it can be easy for managers to quickly exhaust themselves when they are willing to try anything to get the task done.
NUGGET: Rumsfeld wisely notes, “If you go hard at something from the outset… you may exhaust yourself before accomplishing your goal.” He praises hard work and persistent efforts, but cautions against overstretching and underestimating the power of delegation. Sharing the workload promotes capable leadership amongst the entire team. Additionally, a manager’s overall efficiency and dedication to a demanding workload is more likely to remain steady if they benefit from plenty of rest and recuperation as is truly needed.
 This blog post is not intended to reflect Donald Rumsfeld’s specific beliefs on management techniques. Rather, ideas discussed in this post are based on the blog team’s reading of his book, Rumsfeld’s Rules. Quotes in italics are taken directly from the book, though their application specifically to a business management sense is paraphrased and adapted from Rumsfeld’s original recommendations.
Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Meri Tunison. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.