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Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of…

Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton

by David Gergen

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This is a fairly balanced book, telling of Gergen working in the White House for four presdients: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. His comments are tougher on Nixon and Clinton than on the other two, though he says much good about all four. He also calls FDR the 20th century's greatest president--apparently to make Democrats look on him as not overly favorable to the Republicans and this succeeded in making this Democrat feel Gergen was pretty fair in his comments. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jan 4, 2008 |
Gergen's book is great because of the insights he has by virtue of working in high levels of four presidential administrations- Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. He is certainly one of the few to serve in upper levels with both Reagan and Clinton. This work is a little of everything: partly an autobiography, partly a "how to" of government processes, and partly a description of the different management styles and overall cultures of presidential administrations. Gergen uses his experiences with the various leaders to describe what it takes to be a good leader.

One would expect Gergen to praise the various presidents he served with, and he certainly does- he praises Nixon's global strategy, Ford's personal merits, Reagan's skills of communication, and Clinton's ability to develop young party leadership. But the most fascinating parts of the book occur when Gergen uses his experiences with these men to teach the reader a lesson in leadership. Nixon was incapable of controlling the fires that burned within or his own dirty secrets. The so-called "Rogue White House" operated on the premise that sins are only sins if one is caught, and unbeknowst to Gergen or others in the office, Nixon and his associates pushed this premise to the limits. From Nixon, according to the author, we can learn that leaders must be able to have an open dialogue with more of the "higher-up" staff and must possess a basic decency and moral compass.

From Reagan, we can learn that one can be a "Great Communicator," but ultimately a hands-off, low-detail style of management can lead to misinformation, poor decision making, and the inability to effectively represent the adminstration to outsiders such as the media. With Clinton, a failure to effectively gauge the importance of past improprities thorough a proper understanding of the constituency led to a damaged presidency characterized by a lack of public trust.

Gergen gives seven important traits for presidential leaders: integrity, a sense of mission, persuasion, the ability to work with other politicians, a strong start, skilled advisers, and the ability to inspire. These traits work for many professions, so this book has influence much greater than just in the political realm. An excellent political history and leadership lesson. ( )
  tymunn | Nov 5, 2007 |
Gergen's remininscences of working for several presidential administrations. Not very much "new and exciting," but interesting for what it is. ( )
  JBD1 | Jan 18, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743203224, Paperback)

David Gergen is probably the only person to have served at high levels in both the Reagan and Clinton White Houses--not to mention his posts in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He's a consummate Washington insider, a man who appears regularly as a centrist political commentator on PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and works as editor at large for U.S. News & World Report. Eyewitness to Power, his first book, draws upon this unique experience. It's part memoir, part political history, part portrait of White House culture, but it's mostly a meditation on what it takes to be a great political leader. Gergen focuses on the four presidents he has known best--Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton--and offers pointed assessments of each. He calls Reagan "the best leader in the White House since Franklin Roosevelt," and says Clinton "is one of the smartest men ever elected president and has done some of the dumbest things." Gergen does not hesitate to offer harsh criticism: Nixon was hateful, Ford was overwhelmed by his predecessor's scandals, Reagan was often detached, and Clinton was not in control of his appetites. Yet there's a reflective admiration for each man.

What makes this volume rise above the mountain of books on leadership (usually written for executives) is its spot-on observations about the way Washington works, drawn from years of experience: "Republicans like hierarchy and order; they're not like Democrats, as I saw later on, who thrive on chaos and creativity"; the Nixon view of Watergate "was the same as the Victorians had of adultery: the sin was not in the doing of it but in getting caught"; "In most institutions, the power of a leader grows over time. A CEO, a university president, the head of a union, acquire stature through the quality of their long-term performance. The presidency is just the opposite: power tends to evaporate quickly."

Gergen concludes by describing the seven leadership qualities a great president must have: personal integrity, a sense of mission, the ability to persuade, the ability to work with other politicians, a strong start after inauguration, skilled advisers, and the ability to inspire. Those traits, of course, will serve people well from all walks of life--and Eyewitness to Power will appeal not just to readers interested in the presidency but to anyone occupying a position of responsibility (or interested in getting there). --John J. Miller

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:06 -0400)

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"As the twenty-first century opens, Gergen argues, a new golden age may be dawning in America, but its realization will depend heavily upon the success of a new generation at the top. Drawing upon all his many experiences in the White House, he offers seven key lessons for leaders of the future. What they must have, he says, are: inner mastery; a central, compelling purpose rooted in moral values; a capacity to persuade; skills in working within the system; a fast start; a strong, effective team; and a passion that inspires others to keep the flame alive."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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