A Demonstration of the Virtue of Persistence

The War Within by Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward recently wrote a book, The War Within, that chronicles what was going on in the White House in the past couple years. I haven’t read it, but I read excerpts on in Robert Tracinski’s TIA Daily newsletter which made me feel proud and inspired. This will be shocking to my friends in the Bay Area, but the subject of my admiration is President Bush.

To be clear, our president has weaknesses, as do we all. His crowd of detractors is legion, and it is unnecessary for me to call them out. But he does have one great virtue: persistence. He doesn’t give up when he knows he’s right. When I read the account of how much opposition he faced to the surge and how he reacted to it, it inspired me provide that kind of leadership and it set an image in my mind of the kind of leadership I want.

Here’s an account of how Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane delivered a message from President Bush to Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Keane took out the piece of paper and read the president’s message, verbatim, aloud to Petraeus:

“I respect the chain of command. I know that the Joint Chiefs and the Pentagon have some concerns. One is about the Army and Marine Corps and the impact of the war on them. And the second is about other contingencies and the lack of strategic response to those contingencies.

“I want Dave to know that I want him to win. That’s the mission. He will have as much force as he needs for as long as he needs it.

“When he feels he wants to make further reductions, he should only make those reductions based on the conditions in Iraq that he believes justify those reductions. These two concerns that we are discussing back here in Washington—about contingency operations and the needs of the Army and the Marine Corps—they are not your concerns. They are my concerns.

“I do not want to change the strategy until the strategy has succeeded. I waited over three years for a successful strategy. And I’m not giving up on it prematurely. I am not reducing further unless you are convinced that we should reduce further.”

I am convinced the essence of leadership is to set the destination, to congratulate the team when they cross the finish line and in all other times provide humble service to the people who are getting the job done. We didn’t read about it in the papers at the time, but Bush was providing exactly that type of leadership.

I run the technology department at a small business that provides leadership in digital marketing strategy. I’ve managed larger teams than I am now–we’re in a period where we have a solid strategy and things are looking much better than they did six months ago. Every day, I strive to keep the team supplied with billable work and the tools they need to produce excellent work. Likewise, my bosses allow me to be successful by pointing to where they want the company to go and then getting out of my way.

So often we are dissatisfied with government and politicians. It’s amazing to find shining moments of leadership in places where the stakes are so much higher.

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2 Responses to “A Demonstration of the Virtue of Persistence”

  1. David says:

    While it’s true that having a strong constitution and persistence is a virtue;
    While it’s true that picking your team and supporting them until the finish is leadership;

    I think the objection to President Bush isn’t that he lacks persistence, or that he doesn’t provide “executive support”. The objection is that he lacks judgment.

    When he’s right, persistence is admirable. But when he’s wrong, it’s just pigheadedness. And really, his entire resume is a series of failures in judgment. Even his presidency has been marked by more notable failures than successes. And it’s this very *persistence* in failing to recognize when he’s wrong, to admit a mistake and try to correct it, or to even recognize when he’s “married to the pot” that’s a problem.

  2. Leon says:

    I agree there have been mistakes. I do not agree that Bush has a fundamental inability to judge and make decisions. From all appearances, when Bush has made decisions that I disagree with it has been because of incorrect premises, not from a lack of ability to judge.

    I think to be pigheaded, one needs to not only be persistent and wrong, but also know one is wrong. Bush does not strike me as someone who knowingly does things that he doesn’t believe it. He does strike me as someone who believes in things that are wrong. If you ready my blog regularly, you can easily guess what I’d put on the top of my list.

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