Under the category of “Books I Wish I had Read 20 Years Ago,” I have recently discovered The Bureaucratic Entrepreneur: How to Be Effective in Any Unruly Organization by Richard Haass. Don’t let the unwieldy title fool you: this is a slim, easily digestible volume that is chock-full of practical advise on how to be successful in your job, be it government, business or the non-profit sector.
Richard N. Haas, currently president of the Council on Foreign Relations is a highly regarded diplomat and foreign policy expert. A Rhodes Scholar, he served in the Defense and State Departments in the 1980s before being assigned to the Near East and South Asian Affairs desk at the National Security Council, where he developed U.S. policy for President George H.W. Bush during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
He has written numerous books over the years, but this is one of his first, originally published in 1994 under a different title, The Power to Persuade. Five years later, he updated the book and chose a title that more clearly articulated its purpose. It was the subtitle that piqued my interest. After twenty years of government service, I have served in a number of organizations, some great, others dysfunctional. But I have learned that even the best institutions and agencies are still bureaucracies that can be unruly and difficult to navigate. You need an entrepreneurial spirit to negotiate obstacles and accomplish goals in a collaborative fashion.
Haas uses the framework of a compass to structure his book, putting you at the center, with your boss, your co-workers, subordinates, and external stakeholders at the four cardinal points. He then works his way around, describing effective, emotionally intelligent methods to be influential and successful in any job. Although he focuses primarily on government service, his recommendations apply to the business and non-profit fields as well.
His advice ranges from the practical (how to chair efficient meetings, how to write influential memos) to the philosophical (on being ‘indispensable’, he reminds us “when a pope dies, they make another one”). Haas’ writing artfully weaves in vignettes and quotes from a wide range of experienced leaders, national and local, conservative and progressive, which give additional credence to his recommendations. Reading his book is like having the opportunity to attend a panel discussion with some of the most influential public servants of the last four decades.
An additional benefit of the volume is the “Suggestions for Further Reading” section, where I found myself highlighting at least eight books to add to my reading plan. In fact, it was while skimming a similar section of another book, The National Security Enterprise that Haas’ book caught my eye.
Whether providing the two most important questions to ask during the job interview, or discussing options on how a principal and deputy divide their responsibilities, Haas runs the gamut on all the things a leader must consider when starting a new position. I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to hone their skills and conquer the unruliness of their organization.
Any and all opinions are solely my own and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense. I have received no compensation for this product recommendation.