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A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service

A Passion for Leadership book cover
Robert M. Gates
Recommended by: Eric Greitens, Former Governor

1) What is your suggestion about?

Reform is hard. We all recognize problems, but it’s not easy to go from identifying issues to real change. Robert Gates has done it. He’s done it in the military, Central Intelligence Agency, higher education, and the highest levels of the federal bureaucracy. In this book, he shares some of the wisdom he’s gained from those efforts. It’s practical. It’s clear. It’s even pretty funny in some parts. I guarantee that you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement as he describes the trouble with big bureaucracies, and noting concrete ways you’ll want to follow his example in your work. 

2) Why did you choose it? 

Robert Gates is one of the longest-serving military and government leaders of our time. He helmed the Department of Defense under President Bush and President Obama, and earned respect from all types of people he worked with: military and civilian, politicians and career officials, Republicans and Democrats. His career spans more than 50 years. He’s also led businesses, nonprofits, and educational institutions. In this book, he talks about the lessons he’s learned through that service — specifically on driving positive change in government, which is what we’re all here to do.

3) What else do you want to tell us about it? 

One of my favorite things about Gates as a writer: everyone can understand his lessons. You’re not going to need to Google jargon and buzzwords that only insiders to his world can comprehend. He takes tough concepts, critical issues, and expertise, and he communicates clearly in a direct and entertaining way. It is practical wisdom, based on decades of priceless experience, and it is accessible to all of us. 

4) What is a key takeaway for leaders driving improvement in how we deliver for the citizens of Missouri?

Gates shares his experience as the leader of the CIA, the Department of Defense, and Texas A&M (he is now chancellor of the College of William & Mary). One of his biggest takeaways from heading those unique organizations, each of them with critical missions, was that every organization can be improved. There are always opportunities to reduce waste, modernize, become more effective for the people you serve, and “get rid of paralyzing procedural and organizational barnacles that have accumulated over decades.” I think you’d agree: there are big opportunities to do just that in Missouri. As you get into this book, think about the ways that you can apply its lessons to our work and transform our organization for good. 

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  • David Taylor, Department of Public Safety
  • April 16, 2018 2:43 pm
  • If you want to learn about Organization Barnacles, just talk to state employees, then we can rid the paralyzing procedures and become more effective toward people we serve. It takes intuition and foresight to make clear the direction of accessibility to all. Governor is taking the right steps.
  • Mark Allen Piepenbrink, Department of Mental Health
  • April 16, 2018 2:56 pm
  • Thank you for the above information. I do believe the are many antiquated barriers in our State Government that need to be looked at. I only wish this information and what you are trying to change had come when I started work back in the 90's. Had I had the correct mentoring and coaching I believe my career path would have been different for the State and I could have contributed more.
  • Greg Buschjost, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations
  • April 16, 2018 4:26 pm
  • Its good to have a leader that goes against the tide of growing gov't bureaucracy rather than taking the easy route. Changing things for the better is an up hill battle but well worth doing. This book sounds like an excellent read. Thanks
  • Timothy R Hoyer, Department of Public Safety
  • April 17, 2018 9:41 am
  • I appreciate the introduction to this book and it overview.